Volleyball Edged by Rivier, 3-2, in GNAC Tournament Semifinals

Courtesy of Simmons Athletics Communications

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The second-seeded Simmons University women’s volleyball team won the opening two sets, but was unable to close out the match, falling to number three seed Rivier University, 3-2 (20-25, 14-25, 25-19, 26-24, 15-11) this evening in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship Tournament Semifinals at Moore Gymnasium in Boston, Mass. The Sharks finish their season at 19-9, while the Raiders win their seventh straight match and improve to 24-7 to advance to the GNAC Championship match at 3:00 p.m.on November 9. They will take on top-seeded Johnson & Wales University, a 3-0 winner over fourth seed Suffolk University, for the second straight year.

Rivier dropped the first two sets of the match after hitting a combined .043 as a team, but completely changed the momentum of the match with a 25-19 third-set victory on a .333 hitting mark. The Raiders hit .222 as a team in the final three frames. Simmons cruised through the first two sets, hitting .220 and .241, respectively, in sets one and two, but could only manage four kills in the deciding set for a .080 hitting percentage.

Senior outside hitter Taylor Dunster (Sutton, Mass.) put down a season-high 17 kills, including 11 in the final two sets, to lead Rivier. Dunster hit .200 for the match and registered her 13th double-double of the season with 18 digs to go with an ace and a block assist. Sophomore setter Avery Pollard (Ballston Lake, N.Y.) directed the offense with 51 assists in addition to seven digs, two aces, a pair of kills and two block assists. Senior middle hitter Jess Whyte (Plymouth, Mass.) spiked for 14 kills and added three block assists and a dig, while sophomore outside hitter Sydney Racevicius (Woodbury, Conn.) contributed with nine kills, four aces and 18 digs. Senior libero Taryn Higareda (Rosemead, Calif.) led all players with 21 digs.

Junior outside hitter Morgan Weeg (Goodyear, Ariz.) swatted a match-best and season-high 23 kills on a .212 hitting mark to go with five digs and a block assist to lead Simmons, while sophomore middle blocker Amanda Fortune (Round Rock, Texas) swung for nine kills and just one error to fuel a .471 hitting clip in addition to three aces, four block assists and a pair of digs. First year outside hitter Sydney Iannantuono (East Lyme, Conn.) picked up a career-high 20 digs and added 11 kills for her third double-double of the year in addition to a pair of blocks. Junior setter Faith Gray-Williams (Las Vegas, Nev.) recorded her ninth double-double of the season with 43 assists and 11 digs to go with an ace and a pair of blocks.

The Raiders scored the first three points as part of an 8-2 run to begin the fifth set. The Sharks closed to within 8-5, including a kill from Weeg and an ace from first year defensive specialist Gabriel Hernandez (San Francisco, Calif.). Simmons stayed within three points at 9-6, but it was as close as it would come with Rivier maintaining a margin of five and four points for the remainder of the set until the Sharks pulled to within 14-11. A Simmons service error gave the Raiders the set and match point.

Rivier held a 12-11 edge in the opening set, led by three kills from Whyte. Weeg put down a kill and Fortune fired an ace to give the Sharks a 13-12 edge and the home team never trailed again for the remainder of the set. Dunster spiked for a kill to cut the Raiders deficit to 19-18, but Simmons scored six of the final eight points, including two kills each from Iannantuono and Fortune to give the home team a 25-20 opening frame win.

The Sharks jumped out a comfortable 14-4 advantage in the second set, behind a trio of kills from Weeg. She later gave Simmons a 20-9 lead with a kill, before the Raiders scored three straight points to pull to within 20-12. It was as close as they would get as the Sharks tallied the last three points of the frame, including the final kill from Fortune to take a 2-0 match lead.

Weeg opened the third set with a kill to give Simmons a 1-0 lead, but it was its only advantage of the set. Rivier put together an 8-3 run, fueled by two kills and a pair of aces from Racevicius, to take an 8-4 margin. The Sharks called timeout and responded by scoring six of the next eight points, to knot the set at 10-10. The Raiders countered with an 8-1 run and never looked back, taking advantage of five Simmons attack errors for an 18-11 lead. The Sharks later closed to within 19-16, following three unanswered points, but Rivier held them off for a 25-19 set win to begin the momentum swing.

Simmons owned a 12-8 lead midway through the fourth set, bolstered by four kills from Fortune. The Raiders fought back with a 7-2 burst, including a pair of kills from junior outside hitter Joy Maswoswe (Ashland, Mass.), to give them a 15-14 edge. The Sharks scored the next three points for a 17-14 margin and the second of five lead changes for the rest of the set. Dunster put down a kill late in the frame for a 24-23 lead to put Rivier on the cusp of taking the set and tying the match. Sophomore middle hitter Krissy Lloyd (Tampa, Fla.) kept Simmons alive with a kill to pull the home team even at 24-24, but Dunster answered with a kill of her own and fired an ace to give the Raiders a 26-24 set four win to set up the deciding fifth frame.