See Alex Gabriele analysis, below match recap
PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Top-seeded and defending regional champion Johnson & Wales University scored the first seven points of the opening set and was never headed in winning its 57th straight home match with a 25-12, 25-12, 25-15 win over Eastern Connecticut State University in the opening round of the NCAA Division III women's volleyball tournament at the Wildcat Center on the JWU campus Friday night.
A winner of 32 straight, nationally No.-2 ranked Johnson & Wales (32-1) attacked at .571 and limited Eastern (23-7) to .037 in the opening set in advancing to Saturday's second round. The Wildcats improved to 100-3 over the last three seasons after ending Eastern's eight-match winning streak.
The Warriors had qualified for their 17th NCAA tournament by winning the Little East Conference championship last weekend – their first title since 2007. The Wildcats, who reached last year's national quarterfinals with three straight regional wins, won the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC).
The nation's top-ranked team with a .298 attack percentage, the Wildcats attacked at .385, being led in that category by All- America Maria Coniglio (11 kills, .667 percentage). Five of their players attacked at .400 or better.
Photo courtesy of Darryl Konicki, Little East Assistant Commissioner
The Warriors attacked at .037 in the opening set and at .027, finishing at .085.
Six-foot freshman Anna Barry (Andover) – the MVP of the Little East tournament and a first-team All-LEC selection and Rookie-of-the-Year, was Eastern's most effective offensive player, attacking at .294 with six kills. Sophomore Abby Stern (Manchester) led the Warriors with eight kills but attacked at only .030.
Brylee Frank, the New England leader in assists and one of four Wildcat AVCA All-Americas, had 28 assists and Elyssa Nichols 19 digs.
By Alex Gabriele, E-TV Director of Broadcasting
Eastern seemed to be taken by surprise at the start of the match, quickly going down 6-0 before calling timeout. Eastern looked very nervous and hesitant about its play, not resembling its regular season at all. After going down 8-4, Eastern called another early timeout after allowing six straight points and falling behind, 14-4. During the course of these points it seemed like Eastern was consistently out of position and not expecting the combination of skill and athleticism from Johnson and Wales. The end of the set was a final score of 25-12, with nerves seeming to be the driving factor in Eastern's deficiencies, marked by a hitting percentage of .037 versus Johnson and Wales' .550, and ending the set with six more total attack errors than Johnson and Wales, 7-1.
In the second set, Eastern seemed to come out with significantly more confidence, going point-for-point with the Wildcats in a 4-4 tie. Johnson and Wales seemed to begin to pull away, going on a 3-0 run lead by a block and kill by Monica Cordova. However, this run was interrupted by a kill from Abby Stern, who made the score 7-5. Johnson and Wales once again broke away with another 3-0 run, leading to an Eastern timeout with a score of 10-5. After being down 15-7 and looking more like the first set, Eastern cleaned up it play and went on a 4-0 run bring the match within four points, 15-11. Johnson and Wales then outscored Eastern 10-1 to win with another score of 25-12. Patience was a noticeable issue with Eastern's play, leading total attacks 64-54, but falling short in kills with only 14 versus Johnson and Wales' whopping total of 27. Another noticeable stat emphasizing an athleticism that Eastern is not used to facing is total blocks; Johnson and Whales with five, Eastern only with one.
The third set began with a 4-0 Wildcat run, Johnson and Wales answering almost everything that Eastern threw at it, out-digging, out-blocking, and out-hitting Eastern.