NEW LONDON, Conn. – For the second time in three seasons, UMass Boston volleyball (20-11) is the top team in New England, as they fought tooth-and-nail to defeat Bowdoin College by the final of 3-2 Sunday afternoon to earn a sport in this year's NCAA Division III National tournament in Holland, Michigan.
Senior Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, Calif.) was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player, while senior Kayla Wilson (San Jose, Calif.) earned a place on the All-Tournament team. The Beacons jumped out to a commanding leading in the first and eventually earned a 25-14 decision to jump out to a 1-0 lead.
From there Bowdoin battled back to take the second set 25-18. UMass would then sneak past the Polar Bears in the third with a 25-22 win. The fourth set was a dominating affair by Bowdoin as they cruised to a 25-12. With all the momentum in their favor, it looked as if Bowdoin was going to hoist their first regional crown.
However the Beacons had other ideas as they once again dug deep and defeated Bowdoin by the final of 15-13 to earn UMass Boston's third regional title (2 volleyball, 1 baseball). The Beacons will travel to Michigan early this week and will face the Captains of Christopher Newport University on Thursday in the quarterfinal round of the national tournament.
Thompson was once again the driving force for the Beacons as she totaled a match-high 16 kills. Junior Corrine Porter (Huntington Beach, Calif.) drove home 10 kills and added some late momentum in the Beacons run in the fifth set.
Emma Rocha (Boynton Beach, Fla.) finished 25 assists and was the only player to record multiple service aces. Defensively UMB posted a combined eight team blocks, while the Polar Bears finished with 10 blocks as a squad. Thompson finished with a match-best seven block assists and finished third on the team in digs with 16.
Wilson was once again the leader in the back court with her 24 digs, followed by Porter with 19 and Rocha with 16.
In the opening frame, UMB rode the momentum of their huge crowd to score the first eight points of the match. After a Bowdoin timeout, the Polar Bears finally got on the scoreboard, but they were still unable to overcome the loud crowd which caught everyone by surprise. Bowdoin managed to get some points on the scoreboard, but they knew it the Beacons unleashed another flurry which put them firmly in control of the contest (15-4). Bowdoin would eventually rattle off a combined 10 more points in the set, but with a kill by Thompson the Beacons jumped out to a 1-0 lead. As a team UMB hit an impressive .406, while the Polar Bears finished with a -.091 attack percentage.
The second set was definitely a back-and-forth affair with the two teams exchanging points in the early on-going. However a six point run by Bowdoin would give them the room they needed as they made it 16-7. UMB would respond in-kind with a small run of their own, but the Polar Bears still managed to hold a five-point lead over the driving Beacons (17-12). Even with UMB chipping away at the deficit, the Polar Bears held their distance and earned the 25-18 decision to tie the match at 1-1.
The third frame started off in favor of Bowdoin. UMass would not take over until late in the set when Porter fired off three kills, to go along with a pair of attack errors by Bowdoin (20-17). Even with a timeout from the Bowdoin bench, the Polar Bears could not slow the Beacons late rally as they clawed their way to the 25-22 victory.
Even with the late momentum, the Polar Bears were not going to lie down and die without a fight and they proved that in the fourth. From the first serve to the final point, Bowdoin controlled every aspect of the fourth set to tie the match at 2-2. As a team, the Polar Bears hit .267 overall, while UMB who was held to just five kills hit -.071.
In the deciding set Bowdoin would score the first point, but it was quickly answered back by a three-point run by the Beacons. Bowdoin would then tie the score at 3-3 on a Ellie Brennan kill and a UMB attack error. UMass would continue to push the pace and would never let Bowdoin take control of the lead.
After the two teams switched sides the Beacons rode a pair of kills by Thompson and a crucial error by the Polar Bears to jump out to a 12-9 lead. With the crowd ready to come unglued, Bowdoin made one final push to overtake the Beacons. A Brennan kill tied the score at 13-13 and gave the Polar Bears perhaps the biggest serve of the entire match.
Hoping to freeze the server UMB called a quick timeout to talk strategy. After the break, the Beacons scored their 14th point of the set following a kill from Amber Clemons (Simi Valley, Calif.). With just one point standing between them and Michigan sophomore setter Megan Pollock (Wilton, Calif.) stepped back to serve.
Following the serve a back-and-forth rally would ensue with both teams trying to hit their spots, Bowdoin's best chance at the set-tying kill came when the outside hitter drove the ball to the middle of the court.
Sacrificing her body, Thompson laid out and pushed the ball up to keep the play alive. After that the play would continue to go back and forth and what would be described as the most perfect ending to this long story, Pollock would set Thompson who then drove it to the far corner. From there the only word to describe what happened was pandemonium. Fans rushed the court to celebrate the Beacons amazing Cinderella run, which now points in the direction of Michigan.