WILLIMANTIC, Conn. - Keene State's bid for a second ever Little East Conference volleyball title came up short as the Owls fell to Eastern Connecticut State University 3-1 (19-25, 25-19, 18-25, 21-25) in the championship game of the 2018 tournament on Saturday evening at Geissler Gymnasium.
- Keene State: 22-10
- Eastern Connecticut: 23-6
How It Happened
Megan Palmer finished a strong sophomore campaign with 17 kills and 17 digs on .255 hitting. She finishes the season with 331 kills and 320 digs. Olivia Mathieu chipped in 11 kills and eight digs, while Riley Bunker added 28 more digs to her school-best total. Bailey Wilson had 41 assists, nine digs and three block assists for the Owls, who have gone 46-16 in the last two years. Eastern got double-digit kills from three different people, including Abby Stern, who had 22 kills and 12 digs. Alaetra Long had 15 digs and 11 kills.
The Warriors grabbed the important upper hand by racing out to a big lead while claiming the opening set. Stern had three consecutive kills as part of an early ECSU run that put them up 8-3, and later had three more as the lead grew to 12-4. KSC fought back, getting to within 15-12 on kills from Mathieu and Palmer that capped an 8-3 surge, but the Warriors held off the Owls from there. ECSU's lead ballooned back up to 20-13, and the closest Keene State came after that was 22-18. Kills by Anna Barry and Jackie Orlowski gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead in the match.
It was Keene State's turn for a big opening run to begin the second frame, as they got out to leads of 4-0 and, later, 8-2 after three kills from Niamh Dodd and two from Palmer. Eastern Connecticut never got closer than four over the rest of the set as KSC led wire to wire. Kait West's ace made it a 14-7 Owls lead, which remained seven (21-14) after points from Mathieu and Dodd bookended an ECSU error and timeout. Keene State evened the match after Wilson set up Palmer for a kill that clinched the Owls' 25-19 set win.
KSC was put in an immediate hole in the pivotal third set, as an early five-point run made it 9-4 ECSU and forced an Owls timeout. The Warriors were still up 14-7 when Keene State attempted a comeback, as they got within 17-14 on a kill from Palmer and an Eastern error. The Owls never got any closer, though, as two straight kills by Carly Balskus ended any momentum KSC had, and two kills from Stern and one from Long made it 22-15. Keene State scored three straight, but Eastern then did the same, ending the set on Balskus' ace.
A 10-2 run in the middle of the fourth frame proved to be a decisive factor in Eastern's four set victory. The Owls initially fell behind 4-1, but answered with two kills from Palmer and one from Elizabeth Johnson for a 5-4 lead. Wilson and Kelly Hunt had kills of their own as KSC still owned a 9-7 advantage, but then came the Warriors' big blow. Kills from Barry and Long put ECSU ahead for good (11-10), and they later led 17-11 through two more kills from Barry and an Owl attack error. A kill from Dodd and consecutive team blocks from Johnson and Wilson drew KSC within two at 18-16, but that was as close as they got. Leah Sopneski's ace made it 21-16, and it was her who set up Long for a kill that brought up match point (24-20) before Orlowski's kill ended KSC's title hopes.
- Keene State's lone LEC championship came in 2008 when they beat UMass Boston 3-2 at Spaulding Gym. They have been to the title game eight times overall. ECSU's title is their seventh, though they had not won one since 2007. The Warriors have now beaten the Owls in both championship game meetings.
- Bunker finishes her stellar career with 2,035 digs, easily the most in school history. She had the third highest single-season dig total in 2016 (598) and the fourth highest (587) this year. She also finishes fourth in all-time service aces with 199.
- The match also wraps up the careers of seniors Dodd, West, and Kali Sequeira.
- The Owls' season comes to an end. KSC had beaten Eastern Connecticut 3-0 in the regular season matchup on September 15 in Keene.
- Eastern Connecticut will wait for their NCAA Tournament matchup, which will be announced on Monday, November 5.