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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Rivier volleyball back in NCAAs

NASHUA – Looking back, maybe a rare loss to cross-town rival Daniel Webster College was just what the Rivier College women’s volleyball team needed.

“I think that was actually pretty good for us,” Raiders coach Craig Kolek said of that defeat last month, the first Eagles win over the Raiders in at least 10 years. “It kind of woke us up a little bit. We came on strong after that.”

So strong in fact that the 22-14 Raiders last weekend defeated Emerson College in the finals of the Great Northeast Athletic Conference to earn their fourth Division III NCAA tournament trip in the last eight years and first since 2008.

Seeded sixth, Rivier will square off against No. 3 Skidmore College (27-8) in the eight-team Potsdam, N.Y., Regional hosted by Clarkson College on Friday at 12:30 p.m.

Another New Hampshire school, Colby-Sawyer, is seeded seventh. The other schools involved are top-seed SUNY-Courtland, No. 2 Middlebury, host and No. 4 Clarkson, No. 5 Nazareth and eighth-seed Southern Vermont.

The key for the Raiders’ late surge was the return to health by former Pinkerton Academy standout Kenna Finlayson. A junior, Finlayson was recently named the GNAC Player of the Year and was the tourney MVP. She is ranked tops in the nation in kills with 552 for the season, and fourth in kills per set (4.8).

“She’s just a very strong girl,” said Kolek, who carefully monitored the 5-foot-9 Finlayson’s playing time earlier in the year as she was nursing a bad ankle. “She did gymnastics for 15 years. She’s like a guy (with her strength).”

Other keys for the Raiders have included Townsend, Mass., senior Emileigh Cendedella, the conferences defensive player of the year in 2010 who saw more time at outside hitter due to injures; senior setter Lauren Saccoccio (Warwick, R.I.), who missed three weeks with a concussion, and another Warwick product, sophomore Nicole Peacock, whose two-year blocks total of 192 blocks is the most in program history.

For Kolek, this run to the NCAAs may have been the most satisfying. The team finished 12-1 as the GNAC tourney’s second seed, but was 10-13 outside the conference with a tough schedule.

“Mentally it was a challenge,” Kolek said. “This wasn’t our most talented team, so this is very rewarding.”