MIDDLETOWN, Conn. – Sophomore outside hitter Nicole Hilton of the Wesleyan University volleyball team has been named the 2017 NESCAC Player of the Year to become the first Cardinal since 2008 to earn the award and the third overall joining Alexis Keeler '02 (2001) and Lisa Drennan '09 (2006, 2008). Hilton is also joined on the First Team by classmate and outside hitter Stasie Litinsky, while freshman libero Phia Bellizzi earned Second Team praise.
Hilton—a 2016 All-NESCAC Second Team selection—has excelled in her second year with the program as she helped guide the Cardinals to their first conference championship in program history. The Wantagh, N.Y. native currently leads the league in hitting percentage with a .345 clip and was named a Player of the Week twice this season. She also ranks 10th in the conference in total kills (242) and blocks per set (0.78), and 13th in kills per set (2.78).
In addition, Hilton posted double-digit kills in 11 matches and recorded a hitting percentage over .300 in 16 matches. She was incredible during Wesleyan's tournament run in which she averaged 3.64 kills per set with a .353 attack mark as the Cardinals defeated seventh-seeded Williams (3-0), third-seeded Bowdoin (3-1), and top-seeded Tufts (3-1).
Litinsky has excelled throughout her sophomore season to earn her first all-conference accolade of her career. The Evanston, Ill. native is one kill shy of 200 on the year and ranks 11th overall in the NESCAC, averaging 2.80 per set while her .252 hitting percentage is 16th-best in the league. Litinsky has played a pivotal role in the team's success this season and posted a career-high 20 kills during a thrilling 3-2 win at Middlebury in which she hit .459 with just three errors on 37 attempts.
Defensively, Bellizzi has been a tremendous addition for Wesleyan in 2017 and has constantly been one of the top libero's in the conference all year. The freshman is averaging an incredible 5.83 digs per set to rank second overall and her 507 total digs are third-best. She has recorded double-digit digs in all but one match this year, and in that lone match, she totaled five digs in just one set. The highlight of the season for Bellizzi came against then-No. 24 Christopher Newport as she tied a Wesleyan program record with 43 digs during a 3-2 victory.
Wesleyan and Bowdoin each had three players earn All-Conference honors—the most of any team in the league. Hilton, Litinsky, and Bellizzi have led the Cardinals to one of the best seasons in program history in which they boast a 21-5 overall record and 8-2 mark in conference play before winning their first-ever league title. In addition, Wesleyan also won the Little Three championship for the second time ever and the first since 1992.
The Cardinals return to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2001—and second time overall—and will play Wellesley College on Friday, Nov. 10 at 5:30 p.m. on the campus of No. 8 Johnson & Wales. If they win, they will play the winner of Johnson & Wales/Elms on Saturday, Nov. 11 at 5 p.m.