GENEVA, NY – In the first season the Liberty League tournament expanded to six qualifiers, the Union College women’s volleyball team made sure the last team in the playoffs made their presence felt.
Backed by 17 first year kills Shannon McGrath and 15 junior kills Keara’s PageSixth-seeded Union fought to the bitter end and knocked out third-seeded William Smith College 3-2 (25-20, 15-25, 25-20, 23-25, 17- 15) in the first round of the Liberty League Tournament on Tuesday night at Bristol Gymnasium.
With the win, Union advances to the semi-finals of the Liberty League tournament, where the team will face second seed Clarkson University. The match, which takes place at top-seeded Ithaca College, is scheduled to start at 4 p.m. Friday. The winner will advance to the conference championship game Saturday at 2 p.m.
When these two teams played 10 days ago, Union only managed 31 points in total in a three-set sweep. But the return of the first year Shannon McGrath appeared to energize the visitors, who received significant contributions from nearly everyone who stepped onto the pitch in an overall team victory.
McGrath finished the game with a team-leading 17 kills and added eight digs and two aces, followed by Page with a career-high 15 kills on .270 hits. Senior Haley Kresch led the offense with 32 assists, ranking 10th in Union career assists, and added 12 digs and three aces for his second straight double-double and third of the year.
Defensively, first year Georgia Pool was all over the court with 22 digs and six assists, while senior middle blockers Julia Webster and Denesha Lafontant chipped into six kills and five blocks, respectively.
“I couldn’t be more proud of the way the team presented itself today,” said the first-year head coach. Annie Deloid. “From the minute they walked into the gym they were locked in and ready to fight. Our pre-season motto was ‘prepare to compete’ and they were certainly ready for that moment tonight.”
Host Herons took an early 7-3 lead in the first set, but Union was unfazed and raced 8-1 to take their first lead at 11-8. Still leading at 13-12, the visitors made another decisive push, scoring seven of the next eight points to take their biggest lead at 20-13 behind three junior kills. Mya Deleslast.
Union had their worst frame of the night in the second set to allow William Smith to level the score, but the visitors responded with another good set in the third. McGrath started with a kill and an ace as part of a 6-1 opening run, and Kresch served three straight aces as part of a 7-0 stretch that extended the lead to 11 at 17-6. The visitors managed to hold on to take a 2-1 lead.
The fourth set was a home and away game, with four lead changes and 14 deuces. Kills by McGrath, Lafontant and sophomore Farah Elgala gave Union its biggest lead at 16-13. The visitors still led 19-17 after a junior kill Nikki Newcomer before the Herons went on a quick 5-1 run to reclaim the lead for good and force a final frame.
With the momentum seemingly in favor of William Smith, Union started the final set strong with kills from Page and Webster in a 6-1 run. The home side fought back to tie the score at 10, but a WSC service error and an ace by Pool made it a 12-10 lead for Union. The visitors couldn’t convert on a pair of match points at 14-13 and 15-14, but Page made another kill to bring in a third match point and junior Brooke Fleming served an ace to give Union the win.
Next up for Union is a Clarkson team that swept them on senior day in mid-October. But with the pro-Union momentum, that might be enough to reverse another result in favor of the Union.
DeLoid added: “We’ve been building all season and it’s so fun to see the hard work pay off, but we’re not done yet!”