WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - The Keene State College volleyball team is off to the Little East Conference Championship on the strength of a win that was 10 years in the making. The Owls defeated UMass Boston 3-1 (26-24, 20-25, 25-19, 25-22) on Friday evening in the Little East Conference semifinals at Geissler Gymnasium, beating the Beacons for the first time since 2008, which was also the year of their only LEC title.
- Keene State: 22-9
- UMass Boston: 17-9
How It Happened
The Owls got 13 kills and a .333 hitting percentage from Niamh Dodd en route to beating the team that had knocked them out of the tournament six times since 2010. Riley Bunker surpassed 2,000 career digs, tallying 23 in the match to go along with three assists. Olivia Mathieu had 16 digs and six kills, while Megan Palmer had 13 digs and seven kills. Bailey Wilson stuffed the statsheet with 30 assists, eight digs, four kills, and two aces.
The first set was back and forth before the Owls scored four straight to seal it in extra points. UMass Boston got two aces from Eileen Shi in the early going for a 5-3 lead, but KSC scored four straight and eventually went up 10-6 after a Mathieu kill and UMB error. Kills from Kelly Hunt and Dodd helped extend the advantage to 16-11, but the Beacons retaliated, scoring six of the next seven for a one-point lead. UMass Boston once again answered after falling behind 21-19, as they brought up set point at 24-22, only to see Keene State with one final answer. Two kills from Mathieu and one from Dodd helped the Owls storm back for a 1-0 lead in the match.
The Beacons started strong in the second set and held off a big KSC run to even the match. UMass Boston pulled out to a 10-5 lead in the early going, and eventually scored four straight points capped by two aces from Shi to go ahead 15-7. It later extended to 17-8, but KSC utilized an ace from Ali McLoughlin and kills from Hunt and Mathieu to draw within four (18-14). Another kill each from Mathieu and Dodd had the Owls within 21-19, but the Beacons held on, scoring four of the last five.
Bunker served Keene State into four straight points in the initial stages of the third as the Owls raced out to a sizable lead, forcing a Beacons timeout after an ace from Wilson made it 9-3. A kill from Hunt kept the advantage the same (12-6), but UMB came back, using a 10-6 run to get within two (18-16). They would be denied after that, though, as a kill from Palmer and a team block from her and Elizabeth Johnson restored the lead to 23-17. KSC had little trouble finishing the 25-20 set win for a 2-1 lead in the match.
The fourth set was nip and tuck until a late KSC uprising clinched a trip to the finals. Two kills in a row from Hunt and a Wilson ace had the Owls up 8-6. It was still 11-9 KSC, but the Beacons tallied six of the next seven points for their largest lead of the set (15-12). Still trailing 18-15, the Owls roared past UMB from there, closing on a 10-4 burst. A pair of UMass Boston errors evened the set at 18 before a Palmer kill put KSC ahead, a lead they would not relinquish. A pair of Beacon errors put them in a 22-19 hole, and a kill from Johnson and another miscue helped bring up match point (24-20). UMB fended it off twice, but Wilson set up Dodd for a kill that snapped KSC's 16-match losing streak against the Beacons.
- Bunker now has 2,007 digs for her career and is just the 14th active player in Division III to have reached the 2,000 mark.
- Keene State will make their eighth appearance in the Little East title game, looking for their second title. The Owls have reached the finals five times in the last seven years.
- Dodd has 20 kills and has hit .353 and .333, respectively, in the first two games of the Little East Tournament.
- Keene State is 12-18 all-time against UMass Boston, but had not defeated them since the 2008 Little East Tournament Championship.
- Keene State will take on host Eastern Connecticut State University in the Little East Conference Championship tomorrow, November 3, at 5:00 pm. The Warriors advanced to the title game with a 3-0 win over No. 5 seed Rhode Island College in Friday's second semifinal. Keene State defeated the Warriors 3-0 (25-15, 25-10, 25-23) on September 15, the only LEC loss of the season for ECSU. The Owls and Warriors also met for the title in 2005.
- UMass Boston sees their season end prior to the LEC Finals for the first time since 2014 and just the second time in the last 11 years. The Beacons had won eight of the last nine titles.