Jeffs to Close Regular Season with NESCAC's Top Seed in Sight

Head coach Sue Everden has her team in the running for the NESCAC's top seed.

AMHERST, MA – The Amherst College volleyball team will travel to Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., this weekend to close out the regular season with hopes of securing the top seed in the upcoming NESCAC Championship. The Lord Jeffs will take on archrival Williams College Friday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m., before facing the host Continentals Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

Tufts University hosted the 2008 and 2009 NESCAC Volleyball Championships, but this year’s conference tournament will be held at either Amherst (21-2, 7-1 NESCAC), Middlebury (19-5, 6-2) or Williams (16-10, 6-2). With the Ephs and Panthers set to meet on Saturday in their regular season finales, the race for the No. 1 seed is still too close to call.

Because as many as six teams could finish with a 7-3 record in the NESCAC, several playoff scenarios are still in play. In short, the Lord Jeffs would secure hosting rights with a pair of wins this weekend, while a pair of losses could drop them to as low as the No. 3 seed. Should the Jeffs split this weekend’s matches, they would likely earn the No. 2 seed.

Amherst began the week with the NESCAC’s highest averages in kills (12.3/set) and digs (22.6/set), also ranking second in hitting percentage (.245), assists (11.8/set) and blocks (2.34/set). The Jeffs used a 16-match winning streak to tie the program record for best start to a season (19-1) before falling to Bowdoin in the Hall of Fame Invitational. Amherst has since rebounded with wins over Tufts and Smith, and this week is New England's top team in the NCAA's regional rankings.

The Jeffs have been led by their outstanding seniors, who have taken control of the NESCAC statistical leader boards. Rachel Yorke ’11 paces the conference in digs per set (6.96), Laura Hyman ’11 leads in blocking average (1.03), and Jackie Berkley ’11 boasts the highest hitting percentage (.369). Hyman is close behind Berkley with a .354 clip (2nd in NESCAC), as the two have been dominant at the net all year. Erin Camp ’11 is also having a phenomenal year, with her career-best 3.55 digs per set ranking 12th in the conference. Sophomore setter Callie Neilson has had a breakout year, currently leading the NESCAC in assists per set (11.3).

Amherst’s seniors will be looking to even their series with Williams, as the Lord Jeffs are 3-4 against the Ephs since 2007. Williams features an outstanding senior class of its own. Nicole Ballon-Landa ’11 ranks third in the NESCAC in hitting percentage (.335), Kate Anderson ’11 is fifth in kills (3.6/set) and Emily Avis ’11 sits fifth in assists (9.6/set). The Ephs came in at No. 9 in the latest NEWVA regional poll.

Amherst has been arguably the most complete team in the NESCAC this year, but the Jeffs are preparing to face a Williams squad that is far better than its 16-10 record indicates. The Ephs will bring a three-match losing streak to Hamilton, but each of those losses came at the hands of a team ranked in the top five in Division III. Competing at the Wid Guisler Invitational at Juniata College last weekend, Williams was defeated by second-ranked Emory (3-0), fourth-ranked Juniata (3-1) and fifth-ranked Eastern (3-2).

On Saturday the Jeffs will look to build on their 10-match winning streak against Hamilton (13-12, 1-7), with eight of their wins over the Continentals since 2000 resulting in a 3-0 score. Hamilton ranks seventh, eighth and ninth in the NESCAC in blocks (1.43/set), hitting percentage (.181) and kills (10.1/set), respectively, also placing eighth in digs per set (15.2). The Continentals lead the conference in service aces (2.73/set), with Cecelie Pikus ’13 boasting the highest per-set average (0.59). Also standing out has been Meredith Nuber ’14, whose .314 hitting percentage ranks fourth.

The 2010 NESCAC Volleyball Championship will begin Friday, Nov. 5, with the finals set for Sunday, Nov. 7. Tournament seeding will be announced on the conference’s Website shortly after Saturday’s matches conclude.