BOSTON, Mass. - With just two Little East Conference matches left in the 2013 regular season, volleyball faces perhaps its biggest test as it goes head-to-head with the Colonials of Western Connecticut State University this Saturday in Danbury, Connecticut at 12 p.m.
UMass Boston is looking to win their fifth straight Little East Conference Regular Season title and with a win on Saturday will come one step closer to securing the number one spot in the upcoming conference tournament.
WHAT'S ON THE LINE: With a win on Saturday the Beacons will remain the only undefeated team in the Little East Conference. For the Colonials they are currently in a three-way tie for second as they carry a 3-1 record in conference play alongside Keene State College and Plymouth State University. The Beacons who have had an up-and-down 2013 have remained strong in conference play however shutting out four of the five teams they have faced.
Going into Saturday the Beacons have a conference record of 5-0 and an overall mark of 15-13. The Colonials are 3-1 in conference play, but lead the LEC in overall wins and winning percentage with their record of 21-6 (.778).
After Saturday, the only other conference match on the Beacons schedule will be next Tuesday against Plymouth State. The Colonials will have two more matches to play before the end of the regular season and will face Rhode Island College and Plymouth State.
ALL-TIME SERIES: Saturday's match will mark the 23nd meeting between the two squads. The Beacons have won the last six meetings all by the score of 3-0. Prior to that Western Connecticut, who remains the only team to have won five straight tournament titles, defeated the Beacons in their first 16 meetings allowing at the time just two points against.
Last season the Beacons blanked the Colonials on senior day, and went on to earn a share of the regular season title with UMB as both teams recorded a 6-1 record. Shannon Thompson '13 made quick work of the Colonials with her 18 kills and .615 hitting percentage. Setters Megan Pollock (Wilton, Calif.) and Emma Rocha (Boynton Beach, Fla.) combined for 38 assists respectively and Molly Witzmann (Encinitas, Calif.) and Corrine Porter (Huntington Beach, Calif.) recorded 17 digs to lead the defense.
SCOUTING THE COLONIALS: This season head coach Don Fergusson has led Western Connecticut State to one of its best overall records in recent memory. Amongst the team leaders is Karissa Smith who leads the Colonials with 2.91 kills per game. Her hitting percentage of .197 is third best on the team.
Behind her Nina Wojtkiewicz and Melanie Lombardi are both averaging 1.69 kills per game or better to help anchor Western Connecticut's offense. Cady Cordes and Heather Williams have shown that they can put the ball down when needed with their 1.43 and 1.40 kills per game respectively.
Setting the offense all season long has been Jennifer Hogan. The junior currently leads the Colonials and ranks second in the Little East with her 612 assists (7.20 apg). She is also ranked third on the team in aces with 22 alongside Cordes. Rachel Volpe leads WCSU with 30 aces, followed by Smith with 24.
Defensively it has been Volpe that has been the go-to for the Colonials back row with her 4.21 digs per game. Wojtkiewicz has also proven to be a threat on defense as well with her 335 digs this season. At the net Melanie Lombardi has been a wall recording a combined 56 total blocks. Along with Williams' 53 blocks the duo rank amongst the top two blockers in the Little East.
SCOUTING THE BEACONS: The 2013 season has been an up-and-down year for the Beacons as they welcomed nine freshmen to this year's roster. With the departure of All-American Shannon Thompson '13 the Beacons have had to change-up their offense as they worked in a variety of different hitters.
Amongst those new hitters is freshman Julia Murphy (Canton, Mass.). Named a two-time Little East Conference Rookie of the Week, Murphy leads both the Beacons and the Little East Conference with her .301 hitting percentage. To date she also leads UMass Boston in kills with 229 and sits seventh in the conference overall. Classmate Patsy Boland (Chicago, Ill.) is also having a standout freshman season with her 2.14 kills per game and has consistently been one of the Beacons hardest hitters.
Two-time Little East Conference selection Kirsten Morrison (North Reading, Mass.) has come on strong as of late for the Beacons as she sits third overall with 176 kills and is second on the team with a .263 hitting percentage.
Pollock has filled in as the Beacons fulltime setter and has garnered back-to-back Little East Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors after averaging over eight assists per game in the last two weeks. She currently sits fourth in the Little East with a combined 478 assists (5.90 apg). Along with Porter, the duo has combined for 68 services respectively. Defensively, Porter has established herself as one of the most consistent defensive players in program history setting the all-time mark for digs by a four-year player earlier this season. To date she sits second on the squad behind freshman libero Elizabeth Glavan's (Edina, Minn.) 415 digs, which leads the conference.
On top of her offensive play, Murphy has also established herself as UMB's top blocker with 16 solo stops and 54 block assists. Behind her is Morrison with 57 total blocks and Bri Sousa (Swansea, Mass.) with 53.
KEY TO THE MATCH: For the Beacons to be successful this Saturday they must continue to play their game, which over the last four seasons has made them the premiere squad in New England. On top of that they must continue to serve tough and keep the Colonials off balance all contest. The final thing is that they must prevent runs by the Western Conneccticut. Anytime the Beacons have the ball on their side of the net they must put it away to limit any momentum building by their rival.