With a berth in the America East playoffs looking more and more bleak for the Stony Brook volleyball team, it is the little things — the incremental improvements — that head coach Coley Pawlikowski is looking for on her young team toward the end of the season.
On Friday night at Pritchard Gymnasium, in spite of a four-set loss to New Hampshire — the winner of the last three America East titles — Stony Brook made some of these modest improvements.
“Our second showing against New Hampshire was definitely better than our first,” Pawlikowski said with reserved optimism. “We’re starting to get lower air from our youth, and that’s exciting.”
In the Seawolves’ first meeting with the Wildcats, an Oct. 2 road match, they were throttled on the scoreboard; 25-19, 25-15, 25-22; with only one Stony Brook player even recording more than five kills.
Friday was much closer, with New Hampshire winning 25-16, 23-25, 25-21, 25-22. The impassioned effort shown from Stony Brook, the only team in the conference without a senior, seemed to disguise their poor records, now 2-6 in conference play and 6-17 overall.
The team fought to win the second game, a particularly wild set, after a pair of questionable calls allowed New Hampshire to build a 19-14 lead.
Pawlikowski’s outrage toward one of the calls — ruling that sophomore middle blocker Taylor Wilson touched the net on a block attempt — could be heard by any of the season-high 609 in attendance.
“That was a really bad call,” she shouted bluntly, directed at chair referee Bruce Hanelt, who promptly presented her a yellow card, a sportsmanship warning, but her point was made clear.
The coach’s actions seemed to be a motivational tool, firing up her team. A four-point run on the service of junior defensive specialist Dani Nizich brought Stony Brook to a 21-21 tie, while three points on the serve of freshman opposite-side hitter Maria Poole closed the set out.
“Any bad calls are going to be motivating,” Pawlikowski said. “We just found that inner drive within ourselves.”
But the Seawolves were unable to take any of the other three sets against the formidable, more experienced Wildcats.
Stony Brook had a 20-18 lead in the third set slip away, while in the fourth set the team rallied to pull within 20-19 but again was unable to close the frame out.
New Hampshire senior middle blocker Demi Muses had 20 kills and only three errors on offense, recording a match-best 16 digs and four blocks on defense.
The Seawolves’ own star player, sophomore middle blocker McKyla Brooks, was an efficient hitter, but struggled to integrate herself into the offense, with only 20 total attacks in the contest.
“We needed to get her going sooner than we did,” Pawlikowski acknowledged. “We didn’t get her the ball enough and our ball control contributes to that.”
Freshman outside hitter Jordan Gels had 13 kills for Stony Brook, while Wilson had 12. On the backline, freshman libero Kardasia Hitchcock had a team-high 13 digs.
Stony Brook will have a pair of road matches against Albany and Binghamton on Friday and Saturday nights, respectively, at 7 p.m..The Great Danes are 7-1 in America East play this season, while the Bearcats are 5-3.
“We just have to keep working hard,” Wilson said. “We have to keep going, we have to push and we have to take wins when we can take them.”