Earlier this year on October 16, the Bates women’s volleyball team beat Hamilton 3-2, earning their third NESCAC victory of the season. They didn’t know it then, but that victory would be enough to secure them a position in the NESCAC tournament for the first time since 2008.
Despite losing their final two conference tilts against Middlebury and Bowdoin over the past two weeks, the Bobcats were the benefactors of Hamilton, Trinity and Wesleyan all losing their final two conference matches as well. This left Bates in sole possession of eighth place in the conference standings, and earned them a spot in the NESCAC conference tournament.
Since its formal inception in 1999, the NESCAC has organized postseason tournaments for the majority of its competitive sports, volleyball included. This is the eighth time Bates has qualified for the postseason tournament. Bates has never won the conference championship, although they came close during a six-year stretch from 1999-2004. During those first six years of the conference tournament, Bates qualified every year, losing in the championship game in 1999, 2000 and 2003. It was also during this successful series of years in which Bates posted two school records; an NCAA Sweet Sixteen finish in 2000, and nine conference wins in 2003. 2008 was the last time Bates qualified for the tournament, also as the eighth seed, losing in the first round to first-seeded Tufts, 3-1.
Bates will play Bowdoin this Friday in the opening match of the tournament, their third match-up of the season. Bates lost to Bowdoin earlier this fall in the Midcoast Classic tournament 3-0, and dropped their final conference matchup against the Polar Bears 3-1 at home over Halloween weekend.
“We know what to expect from Bowdoin, there is a familiarity with them at this point that is a huge benefit for us,” said first-year head coach Melissa DeRan, who is tasked with preparing her team this week for every players’ first collegiate postseason experience.
“The fact is no one outside of our program expects us to beat Bowdoin,” DeRan said. “And not having to deal with all that pressure actually gives us the freedom to play a lot more loose while still being aggressive.”
As the top seed on the strength of their 9-1 regular season record in the NESCAC, Bowdoin is awarded home court advantage for the duration of the conference tournament. No eighth-seeded team has ever upset the first seed in the NESCAC volleyball tournament. This matchup has only gone to five sets once, when Wesleyan held off Middlebury in 2001. Yet DeRan is still confident in her teams ability.
“Bowdoin is a very strong team at every position,” DeRan commented. “What gives us an advantage is not any weakness in their game but the fact that we have yet to reach our own potential. If everyone [is] at 100%, I really like our chances to pull off an upset.”
“We have had a wonderful intensity for the past few weeks of practice and I expect that to continue,” DeRan continued. “None of us are ready for our season to be over. Our entire team is going to be pushing each other as hard as possible, and I have no doubt we will be ready for another shot at Bowdoin on Friday.”