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  • Writer's pictureELLIOT POTOTSKY

Women’s volleyball goes the distance: GNAC Champions and NCAA DIII Tournament

Sophomore libero Autumn Walker runs towards the Lasers bench in celebration during their championship win against Regis College. Photo courtesy of GNAC Photos

On Saturday, Nov. 11, the women’s volleyball team defeated the Regis Pride 4-1, capturing their first-ever Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship. It was also the team’s first trip to the GNAC championship since 2006, where they went 20-14 overall and fell to the now-defunct Mount Ida College.

This season, the Lasers finished with a conference record of 12-3 and an overall record of 24-4, clinching the fourth seed in the GNAC tournament and earning the most wins in program history. Despite going on the road twice during the postseason, the team only lost two combined sets in the semifinals and championship.

The Lasers utilized home-court advantage with the quarter-finals played at the Athletic Center. Still, they were simply better than their opponent, the Rivier Raiders. During the first set, the Lasers went on a 5-0 run, helping them win 25-19. The Lasers stayed hot in the second set, taking it 25-17. In the final set, the score stayed close early, but once again the Lasers were able to outlast their opponent and win the set 25-19. After the sweep, junior outside hitter McKenna McCool, who led the team with 12 kills described the Lasers fans’ support as “amazing.”

The Lasers gather together on Regis College’s court during the 4-1 GNAC finals victory. Photo courtesy of GNAC Photos

“Everyone’s energy builds the team up and helps us gain confidence,” McCool said.

Following the dominant effort against the Raiders, the Lasers traveled to Simmons University, where they were faced up against a stronger opponent in the Sharks who finished as the number one seed in the GNAC. The Sharks opened the semi-final matchup with a statement, winning the first set 25-22. The Lasers won three unanswered, 25-16, 25-13, 25-23, with the most notable performance coming from sophomore libero Maddie Caro. Caro, who earned 22 digs, fell just three digs shy of tying the program record in a playoff game, which she set last season against Elms College.

During the GNAC finals, the Lasers established their presence early, taking the first set 25-22. Sophomore middle blocker Morgan Bogli and junior outside hitter Tori Scambray led the way with three kills apiece. The second set played out similarly to the first, with the Lasers taking control and winning it 25-19. The Lasers appeared destined to win it all, but after falling in the third set, 25-23, a game where both teams exchanged blows like boxers in a prime-time showdown, the Lasers needed to regroup. It was not long until GNAC Playoffs MVP, junior middle blocker Juliana Medini took charge.

GNAC Finals MVP Juliana Medini (center) stands to the right of Lasell women's volleyball representatives McKenna McCool and Maddie Caro and GNAC Commissioner Joe Walsh (far left) in post-game ceremony. Photo courtesy of GNAC Photos

As Medini earned her fifteenth kill, the Lasers physically and mentally exhausted the Pride. Now up by eight, the Lasers found themselves at match point, and with a final kill from Bogli, the match was over.

“All it took was hard work, dedication, and focus,” Medini said with a big smile on her face following the victory. “I’m proud of my teammates. I’m just so grateful.”

As shivers were sent down the backs of Laser fans, several sets of proud parents rushed to the hardwood to celebrate. One of those sets of parents, who traveled from Nashville, Tenn., shook in disbelief until the very end, as their daughter, first-year opposite hitter Kyra Paris, notched eight total kills during the match.

“I am so proud of [Kyra]. She has been working to get here since she was 12 years old,” Arlie Paris, mother of Kyra said. “I’m so thankful she has such an amazing coach and teammates and is part of the Lasell family.”

Junior middle blocker and GNAC finals MVP Juliana Medini spikes the ball over the net against Regis College. Photo courtesy of GNAC Photos

Paris noted that it had been her main goal since day one to help bring a GNAC championship to the university, adding she feels she would not be here without the support of her teammates and family and all the hard work she contributed.

“To be here today, just to play next to those girls, meant the world to me,” Paris said. “Having my parents, my friends, my previous coaches—it ended up surprising me. I didn’t know they would end up being here.”

With a GNAC championship in the books, the women’s volleyball team advanced to the NCAA Division III Tournament, matching up against the 25-4 Johns Hopkins Blue Jays. Last season, the Blue Jays fell in five sets during the NCAA Quarterfinals against Northwestern, who were ranked fourth in the country. This season, the Blue Jays were led by First-Team All-American Simrin Carlsen, the sixth Johns Hopkins player to be named to the award in the program’s history. Aside from Carlsen, three other Blue Jays were named to All-Conference teams: Helena Swaak, Simone Adam, and honorable mention Chidinma Onukwugha.

First-year opposite hitter Kyra Paris tips the ball toward the net during the 4-1 Lasers championship win. Photo courtesy of GNAC Photos

Despite a valiant effort, which included three blocks from Medini, the women’s volleyball team was no match for the Blue Jays, as they fell in straight sets, 25-11, 25-9, 25-11. The loss ends a historical run for the Lasers, who had never appeared in the NCAA tournament until this season.

Head Coach Jeff Vautrin, who now completed his fourth year with the women’s volleyball team, admired his team’s effort and commitment all season, while also expressing a reason to be optimistic going into next season.

“We got some players out here that are just going to keep working harder so we make a bigger impact next year,” Vautrin said. “They listen like no other team. They work harder than every other team. I couldn’t be more proud.”


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