Stony Brook Volleyball secured an America East postseason spot after defeating the New Hampshire Wildcats on Friday, Oct. 26. The Seawolves earned their 12th consecutive victory by sweeping the UMass Lowell River Hawks in three sets on Sunday, Oct. 28, tying a team record set in 2007.
“I hesitate to say this but I think our group took this one in stride,” head coach Kristin Belzung said following Sunday’s sweep. “They are on a mission to be back [in Pritchard Gymnasium] in a couple of weeks. I say that because we have a lot of work to do before we get to that point.”
The Seawolves comfortably swept the River Hawks 25-20, 25-11 and 25-9, never surrendering the lead. The junior frontcourt of middle blocker Kendra Harlow and outside hitters Maria Poole and Liz Pulver controlled the offensive tempo, combining for 33 of the team’s 53 total points.
Graduate outside hitter Emily Costello, senior middle blocker McKyla Brooks and senior setter Carla Souffront were honored with flowers and plaques prior to their final regular season contest. Brooks and Costello were staples to the team’s attack over the last couple of seasons, while Souffront motivated her teammates to play to the best of their ability on the sidelines. Costello glimmered with pride at another impressive performance by the junior trio.
“It definitely helped with relief knowing that even when we leave, [Stony Brook] will still be a successful team without the seniors,” Costello said.
The seniors kept Stony Brook involved in a tightly-contested battle against New Hampshire Friday night after a rough first set. Junior outside hitter Kennedi Smith led the Wildcats frontcourt with a vicious kill in the first set, giving them a lead they would not surrender. New Hampshire pushed back against a late Stony Brook comeback attempt, winning 25-18.
An attack error by New Hampshire freshman middle blocker Maddie Wiedenfeld set the tempo for the team in the second set. The Wildcats surrendered eight errors in the set and finished with a .163 hitting percentage. The Seawolves capitalized by moving the ball around more freely on the attack, with Costello scoring the kill for the 25-21 second set win.
New Hampshire entered the third set motivated for the victory and scored eight consecutive points to take a 12-6 lead. Stony Brook trailed by eight points but refused to surrender the set and countered with a strong defensive presence. Sophomore libero/defensive specialist Kiani Kerstetter led the backcourt with impressive saves and strong digs to keep the Seawolves in the matchup. Her effort helped the frontcourt erase the eight point deficit and concluded the set on a 6-1 run, winning 25-23.
“It was a little scary and it was a little stressful but we came back and knew what we had to do,” Kerstetter said. “[Coach Belzung told us] to keep pushing and play defense — that was a big emphasis.”
Both teams started off the fourth set strongly as each scored 10 points before surrendering an error, but New Hampshire led throughout it. America East Setter of the Week junior LeAnne Sakowicz contributed to Stony Brook’s constant persistence by recording a kill, block, assist and service ace in the set. Sakowicz assisted Harlow for a kill to complete the comeback, winning 25-23 and taking the game three sets to one.
The 12-game win streak is the longest Stony Brook has had since its only regular season championship season in 2007. The Seawolves have also dominated the conference weekly award categories by earning an astonishing 13 as of Oct. 28. The team has remained adamant in its goal continuing its success en route to hosting the America East Conference Championship.
“All of those things sound pretty cool when you say them out loud,” Belzung said. “Realistically, we are working one day at a time — credit the girls for staying focused on what is ahead of them at the moment. Of course all those things are really good and at the end of the season we will look back and be proud of them, but right now we are focused on getting the opportunity to host the Conference Championship here and being able to win it.”
Stony Brook will finish the regular season on the road, versing the UAlbany Great Danes on Sunday, Nov. 4. The rivalry has brewed for a long time — with UAlbany defeating Stony Brook to end its nearly perfect season in 2007 — but has only amplified after the Seawolves’ semi finals sweep last postseason. While the Seawolves already hold a victory over them this season, Belzung stressed the importance of maintaining a “serve-pass-play” performance.
“We are going to have to serve, pass and play defense,” Belzung said. “Every volleyball coach is going to say that but serve, pass and play defense. We have a system for a reason, for big games and for small games, we work the system and have that to fall back on.
The game is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m.