Camels fight to the fifth

New London - After getting the formalities out of the way the day before, picking up the first NCAA tournament victory in program history, the Connecticut College volleyball team was free to focus on something else Saturday.

Strategy.

As in how to keep the ball from getting to UMass-Boston middle hitters Shannon Thompson and Kirsten Morrison, who happen to hit the ball as if they're using a Louisville Slugger and not their bare hands.

"They put up a big block," said Conn coach Josh Edmed of Thompson (6-foot-2) and Morrison (6-0). "And there's one rotation where they're together side-by-side. They're athletic and skilled and smart.

"They're much bigger than we are. We had to rely on staying disciplined and just be as strong as we can."

The clash of different styles came down to the final point, too, with UMass-Boston winning the second-round NCAA Division III matchup 3-2.

Conn lost the first game 25-23 before taking a 2-1 lead with 25-22 and 25-20 wins in the second and third games. The Beacons came back to tie it 2-2 with a 25-18 victory in game four.

Conn led 13-11 in game five before UMass-Boston coach Terry Condon called a timeout to try to disrupt the Camels' momentum, with the fans packed elbow-to-elbow at Conn's Luce Field House standing in anticipation of a victory.

UMass-Boston, however, came up with the 18-16 win, ending Conn's historic season at 25-4.

The Beacons will meet Bowdoin in today's regional championship at 4 p.m. at Conn. Bowdoin edged Springfield in another five-game match Saturday, 21-25, 21-25, 25-22, 25-20, 15-7.

"Conn played very well and got us out of our system," Condon said of the victory. "But we hung in there. The crowd had a lot of effect on us tonight, especially on our young freshmen."

Thompson finished with 24 kills to lead UMass-Boston (19-11) and Morrison had seven.

Edmed, for his part, made sure the Camels didn't let the loss define their whole season, especially with Conn matching its opponent point-for-point the entire two-hour standoff, including saving three match points in the fifth set.

"They should be very proud of what they've put together and accomplished the entire year," Edmed said. "I wouldn't let a series of three or four points dictate how they feel about the season. We should be proud of what we've accomplished."

Conn freshman Caroline Martin finished with 23 kills and 12 digs, going on a fifth-set assault in which she gave the Camels the lead and nearly the victory.

Conn had seven freshmen on its roster this season, including Martin, whom senior setter Katie Ketcham said the team refers to as "Casual Caroline" due to her coolness under pressure.

Anelise Hohl and Andrea Mullaney added 12 kills each for Conn and Rachel Schroff had 10 kills and 10 digs. Ketcham, who recorded her 2,000th career assist in Friday's 3-0 victory over Framingham State, finished her final career match with 50 assists.

"We came out a little slow, but after that we played like ourselves; we're a very energetic team," Ketcham said.

"It's disappointing to not advance farther in the tournament. "But it was amazing to make it, to make it past the first round. But give it to (UMass-Boston). They played well."

v.fulkerson@theday.com

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