Stony Brook Volleyball entered this postseason as the top seed in the America East when they battled the No. 4-ranked Hartford Hawks on Friday, Nov. 16. Stony Brook Volleyball upset the America East from the fourth seed last postseason by sweeping top-ranked Albany Great Danes in three sets in the semifinals. While the team may have been on different sides of the ranks, both games resulted in the Seawolves picking up the three-set victory and advancing to the America East Championship game.
“It feels really good to get that one,” head coach Kristin Belzung said. “It was hard when we got some jitters under our belt. But to see the girls execute against Hartford and be confident when we were down in that third set to stick together is great momentum carrying us to the Finals.”
Stony Brook sought to close out the game after taking the first two sets, but Hartford remained resilient. The Hawks maintained the lead through two quick Stony Brook timeouts and capitalized off a botched set by junior setter LeAnne Sakowicz, taking a 16-10 lead midway through the third set.
“I thought Hartford did a good job of picking us a part in a couple of rows in a row,” Belzung said. “We had to make the adjustment to get out of rotation and get LeAnne back to serve. I had a conversation with [her] and she tried to get us back into that set.”
Sakowicz assisted the Seawolves to seven consecutive kills late in the third set, giving them a 19-18 lead. Both teams traded the lead and the set was eventually tied at 24. Stony Brook graduate outside hitter Emily Costello and senior middle blocker McKyla Brooks, both earning America East All-Conference honors, pulled the team ahead with consecutive kills for the 26-24 third set victory.
Brooks led the team with 14 points, including the game-winning shot. Her guidance on the court assisted the team in overcoming the pressures of submitting to Hartford.
“We love that,” Brooks said. “I think that one of the most important things in volleyball is having pressure on you. It means you get to work hard and do what you do to win the game.”
Stony Brook earned the first point of the game off a blast by junior middle blocker Kendra Harlow, giving the team a lead it would maintain as the Seawolves won 25-19. Harlow stepped up with 12 kills in what was a career game for her.
“It feels really great,” Harlow said. “It is always nice to be able to succeed when you work hard all season but I have got a bunch of teammates backing me up and wouldn’t be here without them.”
The Seawolves carried that momentum into the second set by going on two seperate eight-point runs. They finished with a .46 hitting percentage and decisively took the set, 25-11.
Stony Brook will face off against No. 2-ranked Albany in the conference finals. The Great Danes advanced by sweeping the No. 3-ranked New Hampshire Wildcats earlier that afternoon. The finals matchup adds another layer to what could be considered a heated rivalry.
Both teams will be vying for revenge along with the right to call themselves champion. Stony Brook is looking for retribution from its loss to Albany in four sets at the 2007 conference finals, which was the last time the Seawolves hosted the tournament. The Great Danes will be looking to halt a Seawolves team that they have fallen to in nine of their last 10 sets.
“The biggest thing for us is being at home, having this type of crowd and having the band in the gym,” Belzung said. “This is a hungry team and we know we are going to have to compete. We know that Albany is very good ー we saw that a couple of weeks ago ー they are confident and want revenge on us so it should be a good match.”
Stony Brook will host Albany in the America East Conference finals on Saturday, Nov. 17 at 6:30 p.m. in Pritchard Gymnasium.