Volleyball Downs MIT to Advance in NCAA Tournament

NEW LONDON, Conn. – Led by Shannon Thompson's (Moorpark, Calif.) match-high 18 kills and .533 hitting percentage volleyball dominated their first match of the 2012 NCAA Division III Regional tournament as they defeated the Engineers of MIT by the final of 3-1 Friday evening at Luce Field House on the campus of Connecticut College.

With the victory the Beacons advance to tomorrow's semi-final match where they will face the winner of the host Camels of Connecticut College and the Rams of Framingham State University.  The victory also marked the third straight season that UMass has advanced to the semi-final round of the NCAA regional tournament. 

Last season the Beacons went the distance with Bowdoin College before knocking off the Polar Bears by the final of 3-2.  Friday's victory improves UMB's record to 18-11 overall, while MIT who was making their first trip to the NCAA tournament closed out 2012 with a record of 30-6.

Thompson's match-changing performance allowed the Beacons to bounce back from a 25-22 loss in the first set.  She then pushed UMass to a 25-20 win in the second, followed by a dominating 25-13 win in the third.  In the fourth, UMass got off to a slow start but put together a solid run in the middle part of the set.  Looking as if they would walk away with the win, UMass may have gotten ahead of themselves, which allowed the Engineers to take advantage of some late mistakes by the Beacons.

However UMass did manage to regain their composure and with a kill by Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.) off of a Emma Rocha assist (Boynton Beach, Fla.) the Beacons secured their spot in Saturday's semi-final.  The win also improved the Beacons overall NCAA regional record to 6-2 as well.

Thompson's defensive play was just as consistent as her offensive as she was one of three Beacons to finish with a match-best three block assists.  She also put-up 14 digs to finish behind Kayla Wilson (San Jose, Calif.) who had 16 and Corrine Porter (Huntington Beach, Calif.) who had 19.  Perhaps the biggest surprise in Friday's match was the presence of freshman outside Blair Boyer (Encinitas, Calif.).  The California native was red-hot all match scoring seven kills to finish with a .278 hitting percentage.  She also had three block assists and seven digs, to catch the Engineers completely off guard.

Sophomore hitter Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.) along with junior outside Amber Clemons (Simi Valley, Calif.) anchored the Beacons offense as well.  The two combined for 19 kills respectively, and finished hitting over .260.  Rocha had one of her better matches of her young career as she totaled 33 assists and two service aces.

In the opening set the Beacons trailed for almost the entire set, but by no more than one point.  It was not until a service error by the Beacons that MIT was able to gain their largest lead (22-20).  They would then capitalize on two kills from Kristine Bunker and an attack error by UMB to earn the 25-22 decision.

The second mirrored the first in almost every way, except the Beacons had the final say as they used a late run to take control of the scoreboard.  Down by two, Molly Witzmann (Encinitas, Calif.) scored a kill, and with an ace from Brooke Nemethy (Ovieda, Fla.) UMass quickly found themselves tied with MIT 20-20.

The Beacons would then rattle off the next five points to earn the victory, with Thompson scoring the decisive kill tying it at one set a-piece.

UMass dominated the third set from start to finish.  Their first run put them ahead of MIT by the score of 13-5.  After the Engineers closed the gap a little bit, UMB posted their second and most impressive run of the match as they cruised to a 25-13 win.

The final set started off with a quick run by the Engineers, but that was quickly matched by the Beacons.  The two would go back-and-forth in the early on-goings, but UMass would use timely hitting to jump out to a slim three point twice.  Down but not out MIT did manage to claw their way back, but their efforts were too little too late as the Beacons walked off the court with a 25-22 decision and the match win.

Volleyball will look to continue their winning ways tomorrow when they face Connecticut College/Framingham State University at 6 p.m. in the semi-final round.