CHC’s Alex DePalma lunges for a “dig” as teammate Liz DiGregorio (left background) looks on. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Following a predictable sweep of Lincoln University and an encouraging road win at East Stroudsburg University, Chestnut Hill College played its home volleyball opener last Wednesday against one of the teams the Griffins will be battling for the middle ground in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference.

Ranked seventh in the Southern Division in the CACC preseason poll, host CHC (3-2 overall) succumbed to number four Georgian Court (Lakewood, NJ) in four sets. It was the second conference match for the local netters, who opened up with another 1-3 setback against Caldwell College, the team that received the most first place polling votes both in the Northern Division and overall.

Despite losing junior middle hitter and team co-captain Cassie Benson to an ankle injury just a few minutes into Wednesday’s tilt, the Griffins didn’t go gently into the rainy night, turning in scores of 22-25, 25-19, 17-25 and 22-25.

The count was just 2-2 when Benson went down in the initial set. The Griffins hung close up to 13-15, then the Eagles spread the score to 14-21. Chestnut Hill rallied, and eventually a hard hit by sophomore middle Mary Markowski and a well-placed tip by her classmate Alex DePalma (left outside) pulled the hosts into a 22-all tie with Georgian Court.

CHC coach Kim Feeney had talked before the season about the need for her charges to maintain their mental focus, but that slipped away a bit at the end of set one. The Griffins coughed up the ball on a serve wide to the right, then sent hits into the net and out over the baseline to help the Eagles secure a 25-22 victory.

Refocused for the second set, the home girls jumped out to an 8-2 lead and remained ahead the rest of the way. Three kills apiece from DePalma and freshman middle Katie Schock and six assists from freshman setter Sidney Chukuntarod helped the Griffins take the set well in hand at 23-14.

The visitors stubbornly held out for a few more points before Chestnut Hill sealed the deal at 25-19. The winners saw tenacious defense from Chukuntarod, senior Alyssa Miller, and junior libero Liz DiGregorio.

CHC fired the opening shot in the third set, then the Eagles soared ahead, 6-1.

Later on the Griffins called time out when they got down 8-14, needing to start a rally without delay. Instead, Georgian Court captured four of the next five points to double up CHC at 9-18. The Jersey girls went on to win, 25-17.

Determined to close out the match, Georgian Court took a 6-1 lead in the fourth frame, but CHC stopped its slide and climbed back within a point of the visitors at 11-12. The Griffins hit the ball out over the sideline on the next play, and they missed other opportunities to draw even with the Eagles later on.

Just one point behind at 21-22, CHC couldn’t handle a hit by Tatiana Rodriguez, one of four Georgian Court recruits from Puerto Rico. Chestnut Hill was unable to return the following serve, but got a momentary reprieve when the Eagles were called for a carry, making it 24-22. The visitors ended the match on the next exchange, and the Griffins were left pondering how they might make that next big step in conference competition.

DePalma paced the CHC attack with 14 kills for the evening, followed by Schock, with six, and Markowski, with five. Chukuntarod finished with 29 assists in the match.