Junior outside side hitter Maria Poole spikes the ball in a match in the 2017 season. Poole, along with graduate outside hitter Emily Costello fought for five straight points during the match against Albany on Friday, Oct. 5.   ERIC SCHMID/STATESMAN FILE

Stony Brook Volleyball continued its impressive performance against America East rivals, topping the Albany Great Danes, 3-1 on Friday, Oct. 5 at home.

The victory gave the Seawolves not only their best starting conference play record ever — 4-0 — but also their first regular season victory over the Great Danes since 2014.

“We know that Albany is a good team,” head coach Kristin Belzung said following the victory. “For our team, we walked in and we felt like we have been playing really good, confident volleyball right now and we [try] to just be us as much as possible. They have a brand of volleyball that is really stressful — they do a really good job at picking apart your weaknesses and they gameplan really well so we knew that was going to be a thing we try and identify.”

Stony Brook had an answer to Albany in the first set, after the Great Danes attempted to play their strategy of aggressive frontcourt striking. The Seawolves showcased their mobile outside hitters, graduate Emily Costello and junior Maria Poole, who fought for five straight points to tie the game at 13. Senior middle blocker McKyla Brooks gave Stony Brook the lead off her second kill of the set, which the Seawolves retained to win 25-21.

Albany jumped out to a 10-6 lead in the second set, but sloppy offensive ball handling led to its eventual downfall. The Seawolves capitalized off nine attack errors by the Great Danes with a .257 hitting percentage and 14 kills. Stony Brook finished off the set on a five-point run, winning 25-17 to go up two sets.

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The Great Danes adjusted their play calling in the third set from focusing on the attack to earning points off the serve, catching the lapsed Seawolves defense off guard. Albany earned four more aces than Stony Brook, which proved to be the difference maker in the set as the Great Danes took it 25-21.

“Ultimately, we were talking about being a transition offense,” Belzung said. “It turned into a serve-receive offense. I thought, especially in that fourth set, we got in a little bit better of an offensive rhythm and I thought that was because our passes were better. Our passers really stepped up and decided that they were going to take ownership of getting us back and rhythm.”

Stony Brook stepped up offensively and defensively in the fourth set as a response to the momentum switch. The backcourt of junior defensive specialist Kardasia Hitchcock and sophomore Defensive Specialist of the Week Kiani Kerstetter made several great saves throughout the set, which gave the Seawolves more scoring opportunities. The team’s frontcourt finished off a weakened Albany team that surrendered 10 attack errors, taking the set 25-18 and the contest 3-1.

With Friday night’s victory, Stony Brook has defeated both teams that ranked above it in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll in consecutive games. Belzung noted that much of the team’s drive to succeed has come from wanting to achieve more than a first-round exit in the NCAA Tournament.  

“Our team is hungry,” Belzung said. “They got the opportunity to compete in the NCAA Tournament last year and I think that is definitely the goal again this year. To be able to make a statement in this first round of conference is something that was important to us but I think the other piece of this is we are continuing to build to November and be the best team we can be.”

Stony Brook has extended its winning streak to six games and improved its overall record to 10-8. The Seawolves are at the top spot in the America East standings and are the only team that has yet to have been defeated in conference play.

“We’ve been in the gym every single day working for [first place],” junior setter LeAnne Sakowicz said. “And it is amazing how we can see the outcome with the results here.”

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Stony Brook will return to action against the Binghamton Bearcats on Friday, Oct. 12 at Pritchard Gymnasium. The game is set to begin at 6:30 p.m.

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