Conn's first NCAA bid comes with bonus ... a chance to host

The Connecticut College volleyball program added to its growing list of first-time accomplishments Monday.

The Camels, who finished atop the New England Small College Athletic Conference regular-season standings for the first time and reached their first conference tournament championship game, received the program's first NCAA Division III tournament bid. They earned an at-large berth into the 64-team field.

On top of that, the Camels will serve as a regional host.

First-round matches in the eight-team regional begin on Friday at Luce Field House, with Conn (24-3) playing Framingham State College (24-9), the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament champion, at 8 p.m.

"We're excited to be in this position," coach Josh Edmed said Monday. "The girls have worked really hard for it. They have sense of accomplishment, but at the same time it's not as satisfying immediately when you're directly involved.

"We do have a lot of work ahead of us in terms of proving ourselves."

After the losing to Middlebury in the NESCAC tournament final on Sunday, Edmed put his team's chances of making the tournament at about 50-50. He was mildly surprised that Conn was selected as a host.

The volleyball program has gained significant ground during Edmed's 11-year tenure, recently climbing to the top spot in the regional rankings for the first time before slipping to No. 2.

But they're still fighting for respect on the national scene. Qualifying for the postseason will certainly enhance the program's reputation.

"We're definitely winning some people over in that sense and deservedly so," Edmed said. "I feel proud about what the girls have accomplished. It's good for our program to take this step."

It's been quick and emotional rollercoaster for the Camels over the last couple of days. From the jubilant NESCAC semifinal victory celebration Saturday, to the downer of losing the championship in three straight games Sunday, to the euphoria of receiving the program's first NCAA bid Monday.

Edmed is pleased with the way the Camels have handled it all.

After learning their postseason fate, they celebrated for about 20 seconds, according to Edmed, and then quickly turned their attention to preparing for Framingham State.

"It was a pretty quick turnaround," Edmed said. "We went from we're super excited to be in the tournament to we have a lot of work ahead of us."

Now Edmed and assistant coach Laurie Whalen of East Lyme will be busy preparing the Camels for what they hope will be just the first of several NCAA tournament matches.

They'll also get a clearer picture of Framingham State.

"They've got an impressive record and have beaten decent teams to get where they are," Edmed said.

The winner of the Conn-Framingham State match will advance to face either MIT (30-5) or UMass-Boston (17-11) on Saturday at 6 p.m. The regional final is Sunday at 4 p.m.

Other teams competing in New London are: NESCAC rival Bowdoin (26-4), Emerson (19-10), Roger Williams (21-10) and Springfield (26-7). East Lyme High School graduate Molly Giannattasio is a sophomore setter for Springfield.

g.keefe@theday.com

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