WILLIMANTIC, Conn. – Sophomore Abby Stern (Manchester) had 22 kills and three players combined to commit only one reception error on 77 attempts as the top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University women's volleyball team avenged its only Little East Conference loss of the season with a four-set victory over third-seeded Keene State College that clinched the 2018 conference championship Saturday afternoon at Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.
Set scores were 25-19, 19-25, 25-18, 25-21.
The conference tournament championship and NCAA invitation are the first for Eastern (23-6) since 2007, when it defeated Western Connecticut in the championship match. Eastern improves to 7-6 in title games while Keene (22-10) falls to 1-7 in the final. The Warriors improved to 10-1 at home this year at home after winning for the 19th time in the last 21 outings and avenging a three-set loss this year at Keene Sept. 15.
After the teams split six-point wins, the Warriors earned the upper hand with the third-set victory in a set where they never trailed. Eastern ripped off six straight points to move out to a 10-4 run and the Owls never got closer than three the rest of the way. In that spurt, Stern had two kills, senior Carly Balskus (Hebron) and freshman Anna Barry (Andover) one each.
The turning point in what proved to be the final set came when the Warriors put together a five-point run to turn a one-point deficit into a four-point, 14-10 lead. Barry collected two kills in that stretch, sophomore Alaetra Long (Lincoln, NE) one.
At left: The selection of freshman Anna Barry as the tournament's Most Outstanding Player was met with approval from her teammates.
The six-foot Barry was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player on the strength of two-match totals of 28 kills, a .533 attack percentage and two blocks. She attacked at .737 with 14 kills in Friday night's semifinal sweep of Rhode Island College and had 14 kills and a .385 attack percentage against Keene.
Stern led all players Saturday in kills and had a .254 attack percentage, with Long adding 11 kills. Freshman Madison Bell (Salem) led Eastern with 28 digs and was perfect on 22 reception attempts, giving her 39 digs and 43 reception attempts without an error. Long did not make an error on 22 reception attempts and Stern was 31-for-32 in that category.
In the final, sophomore Megan Palmer led the Owls with 17 kills and a .255 attack percentage and senior Riley Bunker dug up a team-high 28 digs and was perfect on 13 reception attempts.
Pairings for the NCAA Division III tournament will be announced Monday at 12:30 p.m.