Coming off back-to-back America East championships, the Stony Brook women’s volleyball team struggled in its return to action at the James Madison University (JMU) Invitational, dropping all three matches to start the season 0-3. The two-day tournament was held on Aug. 30 and 31 in Harrisonburg, Virginia in the Sinclair Gymnasium. Playing against top-notch opponents including numerous Power 5 teams, the Seawolves’ offense wasn’t able to get into a rhythm and found itself outmatched by its competition.
“Today, it was apparent that we need to improve our serving and passing game if we want to compete at the highest level,” head coach Kristin Belzung said in a press release. “We struggled to score at times because our first contact was inconsistent. Both Iowa and JMU are great programs who attacked us and we look to get our young players acclimated to this tempo of play.”
Stony Brook kicked off their season at noon on Friday against a Big Ten opponent in the Iowa Hawkeyes. The Seawolves fell behind early in the first set and needed to dig itself out of a 14-3 hole. Facing set point, Stony Brook earned four points in a row to delay the loss but ultimately dropped the frame 25-15.
The Seawolves would follow up with their only set victory of the entire weekend. Staying neck-and-neck with the Hawkeyes in the early goings, Stony Brook was able to take advantage of several Iowa errors in order to pull ahead. Senior outside hitter Maria Poole earned the final kill as the Seawolves took the second set 25-21 to tie the match at one apiece.
Stony Brook threatened again in set three, taking an 11-8 lead early, but allowed five points in a row to hand the momentum back to Iowa, which they would not relinquish as they won the frame 25-16. The Hawkeyes would win the fourth set 25-15 to take the match, three sets to one.
Friday’s nightcap versus host James Madison was scheduled to start at 7 p.m., but a power outage delayed the opening serve to 8:30. The two teams were locked in a close battle during the first set, and neither held a lead greater than three. With the score 24-23 in Dukes’ favor, a service error by Stony Brook sophomore libero Paige Jaeger handed James Madison the close advantage.
The Dukes took the second set in convincing fashion, 25-13. Trying to stave off defeat in set three, Stony Brook led 17-15 before giving up eight in a row and ultimately falling 25-22. A key statistic to the Seawolves’ loss was their .181 hitting percentage, which highlighted their offensive struggles; in comparison, James Madison hit .340 and flashed a more high-energy attack that Stony Brook could not keep up with.
The competition would not get any easier on Saturday, with a ranked opponent in No. 22 Washington State. The Cougars swept in three sets, with all but the final one by double-digit margins. The dynamic nature of Washington State’s gameplay helped secure its victory, spreading the ball around more and getting tough digs to prevent giving up points. Losing 25-12, 25-15 and 25-21, it is clear that Stony Brook has its work cut out for them before conference play starts.
“This tournament was an opportunity for us to see where we need to grow as a program,” Belzung said. “We will find ways to get more production offensively and that includes getting better first contact touches moving into the next couple weeks and executing the game plan earlier in the match. We are excited to be at home against Hofstra on Tuesday and look forward to a great environment in Pritchard.”