Volleyball downs first-place Wesleyan 3-0 for third straight victory

Jacqueline Forney had 42 assists and 20 digs in Bates' 3-0 win over Wesleyan on Oct. 14, 2017. (File photo by Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

LEWISTON, Maine -- The red-hot Bates volleyball team capped a 3-0 week by handing Wesleyan University its first NESCAC loss of the season, defeating the Cardinals 3-0 (25-22, 25-22, 25-23) on Senior Day in Alumni Gymnasium.

Senior captain Jacqueline Forney (Bloomington, Ind.) posted 42 assists, 20 digs in a mammoth effort, setting up sophomore Taylor Stafford-Smith (Calabasas, Calif.) for 15 kills, first-year Angel Echipue (Munich, Germany) for 13 and first-year Ruby Lightbourn (Los Angeles, Calif.) for 11.

Stasie Litinsky led Wesleyan (16-2, 7-1 NESCAC) with nine kills. Emma Robin added seven kills and five blocks, Nicole Hilton contributed six kills and five blocks and Harper Graves added six kills and eight digs. Kaira Muraoka-Robertson had 20 assists and Grace Rose added 18. Phia Bellizzi led the Cardinals with 19 digs.

Since falling behind 1-0 to Bowdoin on Tuesday night, Bates (10-8, 3-5 NESCAC) has reeled off nine set wins in a row, all against conference opponents. The Bobcats defeated Bowdoin for the first time since 2009 by a 3-1 score on Tuesday, then defeated Connecticut College for the first time since 2004 on Friday night by a 3-0 score; and Saturday they swept the first-place Cardinals for their third straight win against Wesleyan.

The Bobcats set the tone on the first play of the day, Echipue's first of six kills in the set on nine attacks (.556). Wesleyan tied the score at 1-1 and 2-2 but Bates Echipue and Stafford-Smith got back-to-back kills for a 4-2 lead. Bates kept a close lead until the Cardinals tied it at 19-19 as Gabby Bennett and Emma Robin blocked Lightbourn. They assumed their first lead at 19-18 on an attack error, moved ahead by two on two more attack errors, then got a kill from Litinsky for a 22-19 lead. But an attack error by Graves returned service to Bates sophomore Julia Panepinto (Buffalo, N.Y.), who served the final five points of the set, with Echipue getting the final two kills of the frame.

Wesleyan led the second set as late as 14-12, but Bates scored four straight points on three Stafford-Smith kills and an ace by Eustache, taking a 16-14 lead the Bobcats didn't relinquish. With the teams mostly trading side-outs, Bates took a 24-20 lead. Wesleyan closed it to 24-22 with a kill by Hilton and a Bates error, but Stafford-Smith got the kill to put Bates ahead 2-0. Stafford-Smith tallied seven kills in each of the final two sets. Lightbourn also shined in the second set with five kills on 11 attempts (.455), while Forney popped up 10 digs. For Wesleyan, Hilton and Litinsky both had four kills, Hilton on only seven attempts (.571).

Stafford-Smith attacked at a .429 rate and posted two blocks in a tense third set. The Bobcats appeared to be on their way to the sweep when senior Augy Silver's (Manhattan Beach, Calif.) over ball hit the middle of Wesleyan's side for an 18-12 lead, but the Bobcats committed three straight errors, and a Litinsky kill closed the gap to 18-16. Robin and Hilton blocked Lightbourn to make it 21-19 Bates, and a Sarah Swenson kiill closed the Cardinals' deficit again, to 22-20. Lightbourn sent down a kill for a 23-20 Bates lead and a Wesleyan timeout, and Stafford-Smith's kill made it 24-20, with Silver serving for match point. But the Cardinals rallied for three straight points, three straight Bates errors, and head coach Melissa DeRan called timeout with the score 24-23. After a lengthy rally, Stafford-Smith's spike was deflected out of bounds by the Cardinals, clinching the victory for Bates.

The Bobcats are tied for seventh place in the NESCAC with Amherst. They will travel next weekend to the UW-Oshkosh Invitational for non-conference matches against Carthage and Wisconsin-Stevens Point on Friday, and Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Wisconsin-Eau Claire on Saturday.