New London — Prior to the first serve on Sunday, the Connecticut College volleyball team had already made school history by becoming the first in program history to reach the New England Small College Athletic Conference championship.
But the top-seeded Camels wanted more. They wanted to add a title to an impressive list of accomplishments this season.
Second-seeded Middlebury proved to be too tough of a final hurdle to clear in Sunday's title match.
When a referee's call erased a point that would have kept their slim hopes alive, the Camels walked off the Luce Field House court as the runnerup, losing in three games (25-20, 25-17, 25-23).
"Obviously, we would have liked to (win) the first NESCAC championship of any team," senior Rachel Schroff said. "We had an amazing season. ... We gave it our all."
A raucous crowd of approximately 500 fans gave the Camels a standing ovation when the match ended.
"It was a solid match for us," Conn coach Josh Edmed said. "Overall, we competed super hard and played really well together as a team."
The Camels (24-3) will find out this morning if they impressed the NCAA Division III volleyball selection committee enough to earn an at-large berth. It would be the program's first ever postseason trip.
Edmed put his team's chances of receiving a bid at 50-50.
"I'd like to think our track record is proven and we deserve to be there," Edmed said. "We do deserve to be there.
"No matter what happens, our kids will be proud of what they accomplished."
Long rallies were the rule of the day in the fiercely competitive match. Middlebury (22-6), which won its fourth NESCAC touranment championship, seized the momentum at crucial times.
"They just kept the rallies going," Schroff said. "We had some pretty good attacks."
The Panthers broke away from a 19-19 tie in the first game for a 25-20 win.
In game two, Conn never recovered after falling behind, 4-3, and lost 25-17. Outside hitter Megan Jarchow, a 6-foot junior, delivered laser kill after laser kill for Middlebury, finishing with 19 overall.
The Camels fought hard to extend the match in the third game, forging a 23-all tie on freshman Caroline Martin's 11th kill. But the Panthers, who reached the final for the third straight year, remained composed and finished off the match.
The loss snapped Conn's 14-game winning streak. Schroff finished with 22 digs and five kills while senior Katie Ketcham had 31 assists and 10 digs and freshman Cailyn Straubel added seven kills and seven digs.
As Middlebury celebrated at one end of the court, Conn gathered in a tight circle for perhaps the last time this season.
Schroff, Ketcham and Carly Guiducci, the team's three seniors, shared a group hug. During their careers, they helped elevate the status of the program.
"It's hard to say goodbye to something that's meant so much to me," said a teary-eyed Guiducci. "Josh has created a program that's really like a family. Even though we didn't win, we still made strides as a program."