BRUNSWICK, Maine - For the first time in tournament history, Bowdoin College has earned the top seed in the NESCAC Volleyball Championship. The Polar Bears earned the right to host the 2011 edition of the conference championship with an unblemished 10-0 league mark and will look to earn the program's first NESCAC title when quarterfinal action gets underway on Friday, Nov. 4 at 5:00 p.m. Teams that advance out of Friday's first round will meet in the semifinals on Saturday, Nov. 5 before the championship concludes on Sunday, Nov. 6 with the final at 12:00 p.m.
A year after finishing third in the NESCAC standings, at the time the best performance in program history, the Polar Bears (23-2, 10-0 NESCAC) took it a step further in 2011 by locking up the top seed in the conference championship for the first time ever. Bowdoin has earned a school-best 23 wins, surpassing the previous record of 22 set during the 1988 campaign, and strung together an all-time-high 17-match winning streak during the heart of the season. While the Polar Bears became the first team since 2008 to go unbeaten during the conference slate, it was by no means easy. Bowdoin earned its first-ever victory at Williams on Oct. 7, coming from two sets down to post a 3-2 win, and handed defending champ Middlebury a 3-2 decision on Oct. 14. The Polar Bears entered the final weekend of the season needing just one more victory to secure the number-one spot, and a 3-1 win over Wesleyan on Oct. 28 put Bowdoin over the top. The Polar Bears will look to not only win their first NESCAC title but also earn their first quarterfinal win in eight attempts when they take on Maine rival Colby (11-14, 3-7 NESCAC). The eighth-seeded Mules are back in the postseason for the first time since finishing atop the NESCAC standings and winning the program's first conference crown in 2005. That year also proved to be the last time that Colby earned a win over Bowdoin, as the Polar Bears are 12-0 against the Mules over that span. Bowdoin took the conference meeting 3-1 in Brunswick on Sept. 16, then won the non-conference matchup 3-0 in Waterville on Oct. 12. The Polar Bears are 8-0 against this year's tournament field, while the Mules are 0-8.
The only thing that prevented Tufts (24-4, 9-1 NESCAC) from obtaining the top seed for the third time in the last four years was Bowdoin's historic run this fall. Even still, the second-seeded Jumbos enter the playoffs following a 9-1 mark in the conference, the lone setback coming at Bowdoin on Sept. 30 by a 3-0 score. Tufts' only NESCAC championship came in the fall of 1996, and in recent years the Jumbos have finished as the runner-up at four out of the last seven tournaments. While Tufts currently features one of the youngest squads in the conference, the Jumbos appear have what it takes to make another title run. During the final conference match of the year, Tufts was down 2-0 at Connecticut College but rallied back for a 3-2 victory, the Jumbos' 15th win in their last 16 outings. Tufts will face one of its oldest championship rivals in the quarterfinals when it battles seventh-seeded Williams (16-12, 5-5 NESCAC). Like the Jumbos, the Ephs are a young team this season, and in the two previous meetings it was Tufts that prevailed, 3-1 on Sept. 17 and 3-0 in the Hall of Fame Invitational on Oct. 22. Williams, which has nine NESCAC titles to its credit, including seven of the last 10, has been the better team come tournament time, winning the last four meetings, the most recent for the 2010 title. Tufts is 7-1 against this year's tournament foes, while Williams is 2-6, earning victories over Trinity (3-2) and Colby (3-1).
Hoping to defend their NESCAC crown this weekend will be the third-seeded Panthers of Middlebury (19-7, 7-3 NESCAC). The Panthers put together a remarkable run last year, winning their first title since taking back-to-back championships in 1997-98 and finishing with a 25-6 record, the second most wins in program history. Although Middlebury got off to a 10-5 start to the year, the Panthers have been buoyed by the return of 2010 NESCAC Player of the Year Jane Handel (Evanston, Ill.) to the lineup after missing time due to injury and have put together an 8-2 mark since a 3-0 setback at Tufts on Oct. 8. Middlebury will open up Friday evening with sixth-seeded Connecticut College (18-8, 6-4 NESCAC). The Camels finished in a three-way tie with Amherst and Trinity for fourth but were relegated to sixth via conference tie-breaking procedures. Connecticut College lost its annual meeting with Middlebury on Oct. 7, 3-0, however there will be one significant difference when the two teams meet on Friday: All-American Amy Newman (Los Angeles, Calif.). Among the national leaders in kills per set and a candidate for NESCAC Player of the Year this season, Newman was absent from three of the Camels' four conference losses this fall due to injury. Middlebury is 4-3 versus the championship field. Connecticut College is 3-4.
Fourth-seeded Trinity (18-8, 6-4 NESCAC) won out in the three-way tie with Amherst and Connecticut College. The Bantams, Lord Jeffs, and Camels all went 1-1 against one another, however Trinity had the best set record amongst tied teams to take the fourth seed. The Bantams' fourth-place showing in the conference standings was their best since finishing in a five-way tie for third during the fall of 2005. Trinity started the year 13-3 with a 4-1 NESCAC mark, but since a 3-1 setback to Connecticut College on Oct. 14 the Bantams are just 5-5. Trinity will face fifth-seeded Amherst (20-6, 6-4 NESCAC) to start the tournament. The Lord Jeffs have a bit of momentum entering the weekend following a 3-2, come-from-behind victory over rival Williams on Friday night. Amherst and Trinity met all the way back at the beginning of the season on Sept. 17 with the Bantams coming out on top 3-0. The Jeffs, who won the 2006 conference crown and finished as the runner-up in 2007 and again in 2008, have reached the semifinals in each of the last five years. The Bantams, meanwhile, have advanced to the semis only once in the last 10 years, their lone appearance coming in 2005. Both teams are 3-4 against tournament foes.
2011 NESCAC VOLLEYBALL CHAMPIONSHIP
Quarterfinals - Friday, November 4 at Bowdoin
No. 8 Colby at No. 1 Bowdoin - 5:00 p.m. - Webcast
No. 7 Williams vs. No. 2 Tufts - 5:00 p.m.
No. 6 Connecticut College vs. No. 3 Middlebury - 8:00 p.m. - Webcast
No. 5 Amherst vs. No. 4 Trinity - 8:00 p.m.
Championship - Sunday, November 6 at Bowdoin
Semifinal Winners - 12:00 p.m. - Webcast