It was a fitting conclusion to what had been a rollercoaster night for the Emerson women’s volleyball team.
Sophomore outside hitter Giuli Frendak stepped up to serve with the Lions ahead, 14-13, in the decisive fifth set against visiting Babson College.
Frendak said she was nervous in the big spot and didn’t strike the ball clean, but that didn’t matter since her serve still dropped in for a shallow ace down the middle to send Emerson to a 3-2 victory at the Bobbi Brown & Steven Plofker Gym.
“Obviously, it’s a lot of pressure, game point for us [and] they’re close behind,” Frendak said. “I said to myself, ‘you’ve served the ball in a million times.’”
It was a crucial win for the Lions (14-9), who improved to 3-4 in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference after Tuesday night’s result.
Head coach Ben Read said Emerson is still hoping to make the NEWMAC Tournament their first year in the conference. Seven out of the 11 teams in the conference make the postseason tournament.
The Lions went to the NCAA Division 3 Tournament in 2012 after winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference and will likely need to win the NEWMAC title to make a return trip.
“We really kind of needed that to keep our playoff hopes alive and that win is a great one,” Read said. “After that first set, I knew Babson was going to go ahead and step it up and we just needed to do the same thing in the fifth [set].”
Emerson sits eighth in the standings with remaining NEWMAC matches against Coast Guard Academy, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Clark University. The former two are top conference opponents. Emerson lost to Coast Guard earlier this month — a 3-1 defeat on Oct. 5 at the Johnson & Wales Invitational.
Read estimated that the Lions would need to win two of their remaining NEWMAC games to control their destiny.
There is reason for optimism, though, after downing another strong conference foe in Babson, winning by set scores of 25-8, 25-23, 23-25, 16-25 and 15-13.
“We were a little streaky, we were just less streaky than our opponent,” Read said. “But I thought our team as a whole stepped up at crucial times.”
The opening set was the fourth time the Lions have held an opponent to single digits as they topped the Beavers (15-11, 5-3) in just 17 minutes, an unusually lopsided result against a foe of Babson’s caliber.
“We were joking on the court like ‘Oh my gosh, they have to be tricking us,’” Frendak said. “I think they just came out and weren’t expecting us to be that energized and that good and in-system.”
Emerson had previously turned in a 25-7 set against Lesley University on Sept. 14, and had 25-9 sets against Elms College and Wentworth Institute of Technology. All three were a part of 3-0 wins over teams with a lower talent level.
Sophomore setter Juliana Tucker (36 assists, 15 digs, five kills) started off with a service ace and sparked the hosts to a 6-0 beginning to set one.
Emerson pulled away by reeling off 16 of 19 points to take a 23-6 advantage.
“We came out with a really good attitude and we knew what we had to do to get in their heads and keep them out of their system,” Frendak said. “It was just a combination of the energy we had and the momentum we took at the beginning.”
The Beavers didn’t help their cause, committing 12 attack errors, two blocking errors, and a service error, while also allowing three service aces in the first set.
The momentum continued into the second set, where Emerson scored six straight points to take a 24-16 lead. Junior Alex Lynn had two kills during the rally and nine on the match, the highest total of the season for the 5-foot-8 outside hitter.
Freshman 6-footer Elizabeth Reid also had nine kills, continuing her emergence after posting 14 in a recent win over Brandeis. Senior Alyssa Thorne led the team with 10 kills, the 10th time in the last dozen matches she’s reached double digits.
Junior Kat Rice and freshman Julianna Augustine each chipped in seven kills, while defensive specialist Jamie Morgan had a strong match with 20 digs.
The Lions allowed Babson to score seven points in a row before Reid closed out the set with a kill out of a timeout.
Emerson committed three consecutive attack errors with the score tied at 22-22 to drop a close third set, and the downhill slide continued in the fourth set, when the Lions allowed a 16-2 Beavers run.
Understandably, Read said the Lions had trouble setting up an effective block against 6-foot-2 Mary Donahue, who registered a game-high 11 kills. Babson had three rotation players 6-foot-1 or taller, including Brittany Goldschmidt (eight kills), who Read said was one of the first quality southpaws they’ve faced.
Emerson scored nine of the final 17 points in the fourth set after freshmen Rose Bennett and Jess Hamilton substituted in for the first time.
“I just feel like the momentum of our team took us to a whole new level in that fifth game and [Babson] had no chance,” Frendak said.
The hosts never trailed in the final set, but allowed Babson to close a four-point lead to 13-12. Lynn placed a shallow kill up the middle to set the table for Frendak’s finish to a five-set thriller.
“We probably should have won in three [sets],” Read said, “but I’ll take it in five.”