Thanks to an undefeated month of September and 14 wins at season’s end, Pine Manor Volleyball enjoyed its most successful season in ten years in 2011. The Gators earned the second-highest win total in the history of the program -- the most since the 2001 Gators won 18 games in the regular season before earning a trip to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) semifinals.
The 2011 season got off to a fantastic start for Pine Manor as the Gators made their way through September with an undefeated 9-0 record. The Gators began the season with four straight home matches, cruising past Mitchell, New Rochelle and Lesley and earning a five set victory over Wentworth in the opening two weeks of the season.
“Our team consisted of a lot of new, young players, and they did a great job of executing and securing a lot of wins right from the start,” said Pine Manor Head Coach Mike Murphy. “They displayed a lot of control and consistency for such a young group.”
The Gators faced their first test in the second game of their second tri-match of the season. After defeating Lesley 3-0, a team that had defeated Pine Manor 3-1 in the previous season, Pine Manor faced a two sets to none deficit against visiting Wentworth Institute of Technology (WIT). However, the young Gators rallied back taking the next two sets, 25-22 and 25-21, before capturing the deciding game 15-11.
The match versus WIT served as a coming-out party for three freshmen, as classmates Destiny Mann (Orlando, FL) finished with 11 kills and 15 digs, Amy Keokanlaya (Walls, MS) tallied a match-high 22 digs while also collecting five service aces, and Kayla Ulery (Goose Creek, SC) added 8 kills of her own.
In rallying to defeat Wentworth, Pine Manor also relied on some familiar faces, turning to its upperclassmen to lead the way. The team’s lone senior, co-captain Jennifer Gross (Coral Springs, FL), finished the match with a team-high .220 hitting percentage, while junior co-captain Alie Johnston finished with a team-high 14 kills and sophomore Megan Patch (Bethpage, TN) had a match-high 39 set assists.
The team also recieved a major boost from sophomore Ashley Carusone (Nashua, NH) as the second year starter stepped into a role as the teams second middle hitter with little experince playing the position. After spending last season as an outside hitter, Carusone started every game for the Gators as a middle hitter in 2011.
"I'm proud of Ashley who stepped in and moved to MH this year - not her natural position, said Murphy of the second year starter who is also a standout for the Pine Manor soiftball program. "But, the team needed a player there and she stepped up to accept the challenge."
Having passed its first test of the season, the Gators then easily defeated Becker for their first road win of the season. Pine Manor then turned its attention to its GNAC opening tri-match versus Saint Joseph (CT) and local rival Mount Ida. For the second straight weekend, the Gators would find themselves in a five-set battle, this time against Mount Ida. And for the second straight weekend, Pine Manor would walk away with a victory.
After topping St. Joseph (CT) in the opening match of the day, Pine Manor would take the first two sets from Mount Ida. While it appeared that the Gators would cruise to straight-set victories in both of its opening conference matches, Mount Ida had other plans. The Mustangs rallied to take the third set 25-22 and the fourth by a score of 25-20. However, in the decisive the fifth set the Gators raced out to the lead and put away the Mustangs 15-6.
Through the opening weekend of the conference season, Pine Manor was 7-0 and 2-0 in the GNAC. The performance of Mann (pictured left) -- with nine kills versus Saint Joseph (CT) and 13 kills versus Mount Ida -- helped the freshmen from Orlando, FL finish the week with a team-high .317 hitting percentage, 26 kills, 23 digs, and 8 services aces over three matches, earning her Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Rookie of the Week honors.
The Gators capped off September with consecutive home wins over Elms and Regis in front of loud and supportive crowds at Pine Manor Gym.
“It was nice to see the early success of our team draw more fans to our games, and we certainly want to thank all of them for their support,” said Murphy, expressing appreciation for the support of the student body and Pine Manor community.
PMC finished the month of September undefeated for the first time in the history of the program. But moving into October presented the Gators with new challenges, including the top-ranked teams in the GNAC.
Pine Manor took its undefeated record to Northfield, VT for a tri-match versus host Norwich and Emerson. After dropping a 3-0 decision to Norwich, the Gators also fell in three straight sets to Emerson, the eventual GNAC runner-up and a team ranked in the top-15 in the New England volleyball coaches’ poll at the time.
“The month of October proved to be tougher because we began playing many of the higher-ranked teams in our conference,” said Murphy. “But we still continued on and recorded a lot of important accomplishments.”
The Gators got back in the win column with back-to-back home victories over Mass. Maritime and Daniel Webster. Perhaps no match of the season was more exciting than the Saturday matinee versus Daniel Webster, as Johnston and Mann both put down 13 kills to help Pine Manor to a 3-2 victory in a closely contested match with the Eagles.
Pine Manor would then split its next GNAC tri-match, defeating Albertus Magnus before falling to eventual conference champion Rivier. Sitting at 3-3 with seven conference games remaining, Pine Manor turned its attention to an October 15 tri-match in Chestnut Hill, during which the Gators had a chance to gain valuable ground in the race for a GNAC playoff spot.
Unfortunately, the Gators would begin the tri-match with a heartbreaking five-set loss to Saint Joseph (ME). While Pine Manor was able to rebound in the second match and defeat Anna Maria, the loss to Saint Joseph’s (ME), after leading two sets to none, saw Pine Manor remain at .500 at the end of the day.
“The loss against Saint Joseph's Maine was a heartbreaker,” said Murphy, “and I felt like our team never quite got back on track after that loss.”
After the weekend, Gross (pictured right) was named the GNAC Player of the Week for October 17. She finished the week with a conference-best 57 kills in 4 matches, including a total of 35 during the October 15 tri-match, including a season-high 18 versus Anna Maria. Gross finished the season with a team-leading 222 kills and a .347 hitting percentage. Her hitting percentage helped to rank her among the top-50 (36th overall) in the nation for NCAA Division III at the end of the season.
Pine Manor managed only one more win following the October 15 tri-match: a 3-0 sweep of Southern Maine. However, that win included two more milestones for the 2011 season. In the second set of the match, Patch recorded her 1,000th assist on a kill by Gross, helping to lead PMC to a 10-0 non-conference record in 2011.
With Pine Manor facing four eventual GNAC playoff teams in its final five matches, the Gators were unable to secure another conference victory, despite a strong showing versus Johnson & Wales and a furious comeback on the road at Simmons College. In the defeats to JWU and Simmons, the Gators still took sets from two opponents who had shut them out in the previous season and weren’t eliminated from the playoff race until a 3-0 loss to Lasell on the final day of the regular season.
“Unfortunately, we did not make it to the playoffs, which was one of the teams goals, but I am very excited to end the season with a winning record,” said Gross following the season. “This season was the best season I had here at Pine Manor.”
Despite being unable to capture a playoff spot, Pine Manor made strong strides forward as a program. The team also made a strong effort to support the nationwide ‘Dig Pink’ initiative as part of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, raising several hundred dollars and sporting pink shirts for the matches on October 15. The team also wore red bandanas as a tribute to Boston College graduate Welles Crowther, a victim of 9/11 who helped to save at least a dozen people before losing his own life.
“I was proud to see our commitment to worthy causes like Dig Pink grow, and to see our team wearing the red bandanas in honor of a 9-11 victim and hero. I am also very proud to have seen our team essentially rise from a team that had only won a single game in 2009 to win 10 games last year and then 60 percent of our matches in 2011, said Murphy. “Earning the most wins since the 2001 season -- the most in a decade -- is a huge accomplishment for this program.”
Posted on Mon, November 14, 2011
by Sports Information