Oct. 16, 2018 8:40 p.m.: This story has been updated with paragraphs that were omitted from the original version.
Despite two three-set sweeps over the weekend against America East rivals Binghamton Bearcats and the UMBC Retrievers, Stony Brook Volleyball was not content. Instead, the players and coaches showcased an eagerness to improve upon two performances the team collectively agreed were not their best effort.
“I didn’t feel like we were on as good as a rhythm as we could have been in,” head coach Kristin Belzung said following the victory over UMBC on Sunday, Oct. 14. “I thought UMBC did a really good job of scouting us. From the start of the match, they did a couple of things to make us uncomfortable and I thought we did a good job of adjusting and finding ways to score around what they scouted.”
Neither team’s offense played well to start Sunday’s match and gave up a combined 13 attack errors in the first set. Stony Brook led 22-18 at one point, but UMBC scored two straight points, cutting the deficit to two and forcing the Seawolves to call a timeout. The timeout paid off for the Seawolves as a service ace by America East Setter of the Week junior LeAnne Sakowicz capped off a three-point run and 25-22 set one victory.
Stony Brook’s frontcourt improved as a unit in the second set, but UMBC sophomore outside hitter Carmen Freeman kept her team involved in the set and gave the Retrievers an 8-6 lead. Freeman was the catalyst for the Retrievers’ success and displayed a tenacious attitude that the Seawolves struggled to contest. However, the Retrievers were unable retain the lead and allowed 10 attack errors which led to the Seawolves taking the second set 25-22.
UMBC remained competitive in the match despite being down and tied the game at 14 in the third set. Stony Brook lit up for the remainder of the set and ended the third set on an 11-4 run to win 25-18 and take the three-game sweep.
The Stony Brook defense faltered against Binghamton starting off Friday’s match. Binghamton senior outside hitter Gaby Alicea rallied her team with four early kills, tying the set at 12. The Bearcats began to break down on both sides of the net despite Alicea’s impactful attacking effort, allowing the Seawolves to capitalize with a 5-2 run and force a Bearcats timeout. Stony Brook maintained the momentum earned from the run with a strong attack, winning the first set, 25-20.
Stony Brook’s frontcourt of outside hitters graduate Emily Costello and junior Maria Poole overwhelmed the struggling Binghamton defense to begin the second set. The duo scored four of the first six Seawolves points and forced the Bearcats to burn an early timeout. The timeout proved successful, however, as the Bearcats battled back and tied the game at 16. Binghamton seemed to have successfully turned the tide until a crafty fake pass attack by Sakowicz caught them off guard and gave Stony Brook a 17-16 lead.
The kill by Sakowicz was her only one, but it turned out to be the most significant of the night. The momentum firmly swung in Stony Brook’s favor and the team did not relinquish the lead for the rest of the match, winning the second set, 25-22.
Sakowicz downplayed her impact and instead credited her coaches for instilling a game plan of “hitting smarter not harder” to earn the second-set victory.
“I think [the key to winning the set] was us trying to mix up our shots a little bit more and us not expecting the rally to end on the first swing,” Sakowicz said. “We started to hit harder and we were told to hit smarter.”
Stony Brook went on a six-point run in the middle of the third set, taking a 22-11 lead. Binghamton pushed for one last run but senior middle blocker McKyla Brooks denied it with a forceful spike over the net to take the third set at 25-15 and earn the three-set victory.
Brooks stepped up late in both games for Stony Brook after a slow start and led the team with 25 kills this weekend. The senior became the tenth player in school history to record over 1,100 kills and is currently ninth all-time with 1,113 kills. While Brooks continues adding accolades to her already lengthy career résumé, she remains focused on contributing to her team’s success.
“Honestly, I just go out there and play,” Brooks said. “It feels great but I am just trying to win for my team.”
The Seawolves improved to 6-0 off the wins and extended their winning streak to eight games. Coach Belzung continued to stress the importance of maintaining the momentum as the second half of the season picks up
“It’s definitely good,” Belzung said. “I think we continue to emphasize the goal which is to host the Conference tournament and get a chance to win it here. While this is a really good start, I think ultimately our goal doesn’t come into fruition until November so we are trying to continue to improve and ‘work the process’ and fortunately the result has been going our way so far.”
Stony Brook will play their final home game of a four-game home stretch against the Hartford Hawks on Thursday, Oct. 18. The Seawolves seem determined to counter the impact junior middle blocker Jenna Bridges brings to the court as the conference leader in overall hitting percentage.
“Hartford is probably the best offensive team in the conference,” Belzung said. “[Bridges] is a player that nobody seems to know how to stop. That is going to be the focus this week and I think they will come out ready to compete so we are looking forward to having a good crowd at Pritchard [Gymnasium].”
The first serve is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.