WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Senior Carly Balskus (Hebron) and freshmen Abby Stern (Manchester) and Alaetra Long (Lincoln, NE) combined for 34 kills as third-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University swept No. 6 University of Southern Maine to advance to the semifinal round of the Little East Conference women's volleyball tournament Tuesday evening at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium. Set scores were 28-26, 25-14, 25-12.
Eastern (18-8), which had earned a quarterfinal-round home game by sweeping Southern Maine (20-10) Saturday at Gorham, travels to face No. 2 Keene State College Thursday in a semifinal-round match at 7 p.m.. Keene, which swept Eastern in the regular season, drew a first-round bye after sharing the LEC regular-season title with UMass Boston.
The Warriors came from way back to emerge with the first-set win and never let go of the momentum en route to advancing to the tournament semifinals for the third time in four years.
USM never trailed in the first set until the Warriors capped a comeback from eight points down (22-14). Eastern survived set point several times before breaking a 26-all time with the final two points of the set. The Huskies had faced to a 5-1 lead before the Warriors surged back to tie the match at 10-all.
Neither team could break through the early part of the second set before the Warriors used a 10-2 run to close to within one of the victory. The third set followed the pattern of the second. Leading by one, 9-8, Eastern ripped off a six-point run that staked it to a 15-8 lead from which they were never threatened.
Stern had game-high 14 serves and a .355 attack percentage, with Long totaling 11 kills and a .290 attack mark and Balskus nine kills and a .259 success rate. Junior Leah Sopneski (Deep River) came off the bench for a team-high 20 assists, sophomore Mckenzie Maneggia (Andover) setting 14.
Defensively, the Warriors were stellar, commiting only one reception error. Senior Michelle Valliere (Lebanon) had 23 digs (to go along with three aces) and Long had 12 digs and was perfect on 20 reception attempts.
Southern Maine senior Jess Williamson – one of the top offensive players in the conference – topped the Huskie with ten kills, sophomore Faolain Harrington adding seven and senior Mo Raymond five. Junior Nicole Schmitz collected 24 assists.
Senior Mariah Garcia led USM 14 digs, Raymond adding 11.