Junior Sarah Mattaliano positions herself for a pass during a Chestnut Hill College volleyball match. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Even in a season that has been somewhat disappointing overall, it’s always helpful to go out with a win rather than a loss.

Coping with injuries and inexperience this fall, the Chestnut Hill College volleyball team was still able to end on a high note, wrapping up the 2012 campaign last Saturday with a 3-1 win over Bloomfield College in front of a large home crowd. With that outcome, the Griffins fell just short of the 10-win mark overall, at 9-20, while improving their standing within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference to 5-13.

CHC is a member of the conference’s southern division and Bloomfield is in the northern sector (located five miles west of the Giants’ and Jets’ MetLife Stadium), so the teams do not play a home-away series during the regular season. Last Saturday would be the only meeting between the two clubs, and the Chestnut Hill players could see from the Deacons’ season mark (4-16, 3-15 before the match) that this would be a prime opportunity to pick up one last, coveted “W.”

Before the 2012 campaign even started, senior middle hitter and team co-captain Cassie Benson suffered a rotator cuff injury that would keep her sidelined for the duration. Honored at Senior Day last weekend along with setter Courtney Gallo, Benson was given a ceremonial starting role against Bloomfield, but after the first set she retired to the bench and donned an ice pack.

Bloomfield scored first in all four sets of the match, starting off with a 3-0 lead in the opening round. A side-out gave the Griffins a point and the serve, and with Gallo putting the ball in play CHC proceeded to a 5-3 advantage, with Benson scoring on a put-back along with way.

The Deacons pulled even at 5-all, then Chestnut Hill moved in front again, 9-6, with a scoring block from Benson and two kills from the team’s other co-captain, junior outside hitter Alex DePalma. This time the hosts held onto the advantage, breaking the set open with a lengthy serving string.

With the tally 10-8 following a CHC serving error, the Griffins got a side-out on a hit by freshman Rachel Biro, sending fellow rookie Abby Gruver to the service line. There she remained for seven more points, with Biro adding another kill and a successful block to her stats, while DePalma put down a hit and Bloomfield struggled on a few returns. The Deacons never got back in contention, and fell, 25-13.

In the second set, Chestnut Hill overcame an early 0-4 deficit to move ahead, but the visitors stayed close behind. The Griffins brought up set point at 24-20 when a ball smacked by DePalma went out of bounds off of two Bloomfield blockers, but after that the Deacons dug in to avoid going down 0-2 in the match. They blanked the home team the rest of the way and sealed a 26-24 victory with a kill by their most prolific attacker, senior Da’Cheray Thomas.

The visitors’ stubbornness didn’t bother Chestnut Hill head coach Kim Feeny, who commented, “It’s more fun to be challenged, especially if you’re able to respond well to that challenge.”

Bloomfield took its customary early lead in set three, going up 3-0 and gaining a 6-2 advantage soon after that. As in the opening set, the Griffins answered with a decisive surge, first securing a side-out with a tip to open space by junior Mary Markowski, then reeling off eight more points with freshman Meghan Chiovitti holding serve.

This streak included kills by Gruver and Biro, and one by sophomore Katie Schock, who would increasingly assert herself at the net in the second half of the match. Bloomfield twice fought back to within one point, at 12-11 and then at 16-15, but the Griffins kept the lead. Kills by Markowski and DePalma helped the home team post six of the last seven points in the set for a 25-17 win and a 2-1 lead overall.

The Deacons only went ahead 2-0 initially in the fourth set, but a little later they were up 6-2. The Griffins crept back into it, finally pulling even at 12-12 thanks to a DePalma projectile. Bloomfield inched ahead again a few times, enjoying its last lead at 18-17 before giving away the tying point with a serve into the net.

Biro belted out the next point, then scored another by stuffing the ball down into the Deacons’ front row. After a Bloomfield time-out, the CHC freshman jammed the ball down into the visitors once again, then she combined with DePalma for a block that made it 22-18.

DePalma found the floor by tipping the ball just over a Bloomfield block, then the Deacons popped an errant pass way up in the air and back towards the wall of the gym, bringing up match point for the Griffins.

The visitors’ Thomas registered one last point for her squad with her 16th kill of the afternoon, then DePalma closed out the deciding set, 25-19, with her 14th kill. Biro and Schock came away with nine kills apiece and Markowski and Gruver each recorded six.

DePalma also led the winners in digs, with 16, and here she was followed by freshman Deanna Bianchini, with an even dozen. A sophomore transfer, Alyssa Tamsing, posted a team-high 18 assists, while Gallo ended her Chestnut Hill career with 17 assists for the day.

The fact that a lot of the best numbers on the stat sheet belonged to underclassmen bodes well for the future, and at present Feeny plans to add two new hitters, a setter, and a libero to the mix.

“I think there’s been gradual growth and maturity on the team overall,” the Griffins’ skipper said. “The freshmen became comfortable playing at this level; they’ve gotten used to facing the kind of competition they’ll be seeing regularly from now on.”

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