Eastern Volleyball Wins LEC Championship

The Warriors’ victory over Keene State College on Nov. 3 earned them the conference title.

Written by Bob Molta

The Eastern Connecticut State University women’s volleyball team put the finishing touches on its most successful season in 12 years by winning the Little East Conference tournament championship with a four-set victory over Keene State College Nov. 3 at Eastern’s Francis E. Geissler Gymnasium.

Sophomore Abby Stern of Manchester had 22 kills and three players combined to commit only one reception error on 77 attempts as the top-seeded Warriors avenged their only Little East loss of the season with the victory over third-seeded Keene State College — Eastern’s eighth straight victory and 19th in its last 21 matches.

After losing in straight sets at Keene State in its conference-opener Sept. 15, Eastern ripped off nine straight victories — and won its final seven LEC regular-season matches — and later ended the regular season on a six-game win streak. Eastern advanced to the tournament championship game with a sweep of Rhode Island College before ending a run of three straight three-set losses to Keene.

The conference tournament championship and ensuing NCAA invitation were the first for Eastern since 2007, when it defeated Western Connecticut in the LEC championship match. The Warriors finished the season with a 10-1 home record.

Six-foot freshman Anna Barry of Andover — one of three players on the team from high school state power RHAM — was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player on the strength of two-match totals of 28 kills, a .533 attack percentage and two blocks. She attacked at .737 with 14 kills in the semifinal sweep of Rhode Island College and had 14 kills and a .385 attack percentage against Keene. Another freshman, libero Madison Bell of Salem, played like a veteran in the tournament, fielding 43 serves without a reception error and digging up a team-high 39 balls (5.57 per set).

Of her four seniors, fifth-year head coach Megan Silver-Droesch told E-TV’s Dom Conte after the championship, “I’m so proud of them, they work hard and they got better every single year. And to overcome a hurdle (Keene State) that stopped us (in the regular season), is extra-special.”

The senior class included Carly Balskus of Hebron, Jackie Orlowski of Woodstock, Caryn Sibiskie of Rockfall, and Leah Sopneski of Deep River — the latter three overcame significant injuries throughout their careers.

The Warriors (23-7) concluded their winningest season since 2006 with a berth in the NCAA tournament for the 17th time — the second most such Division III appearances in New England history.

In the season-ending conference awards, Barry was named Rookie-of-the-Year and as the only freshman selection to the LEC first team. Silver-Droesch was named Coach-of-the-Year for the second time. Joining Barry on the all-conference team as second-team picks were Stern — last year’s LEC Rookie-of-the-Year — Balskus, and sophomore Alaetra Long. Barry was also voted to the NEWVA (New England Women’s Volleyball Association) All-Rookie Team.