November 12, 2017. That was the last time that the Stony Brook volleyball team had lost a match versus an America East opponent. The Seawolves’ undefeated streak against the rest of their conference spanned 16 matches, multiple NCAA Tournament appearances and a dominant 2018 season that will go down as one of the most impressive runs the America East will see. It all came to an end on Friday, Sept. 27, as Stony Brook fell 3-1 to the Hartford Hawks in their first conference bout of the season.
“We knew Hartford’s strength was their offensive efficiency and we weren’t able to contain it in either of the last two sets tonight,” head coach Kristin Belzung said in a press release. “Conference play is a different level of intensity and we have got to be able to limit runs and shut down go-to players to put ourselves in a position to win.”
Having struggled during non-conference play, Stony Brook looked to get back on track in the America East opener. Initially, it appeared as if the Seawolves had turned the corner, showing improvements in the first set of the night. Stony Brook took early control of the set, scoring five in a row to go up 7-3 and forcing Hartford to play from behind. While the Hawks eventually worked their way back into a tie, they could not fully sway the balance in their favor as the two teams closely battled back and forth. Senior middle blocker Kendra Harlow sealed the set victory for Stony Brook, delivering the attack right past the swinging arms of a Hartford defender for the kill and the 25-23 win.
The second set also started out as a close battle initially in Stony Brook’s favor. With the Seawolves up 12-10, the Hawks scored five in a row as part of an 11-1 run to give them their first lead of the frame. Hartford senior blocker Jenna Bridges, the reigning America East Player of the Year, lived up to her reputation by recording five kills during the run; she would finish the night with a match-high 31. Stony Brook never rebounded and lost the set 25-17.
Hartford similarly faced small deficits in the third set but would not allow Stony Brook to hold onto their slim leads. The Seawolves, up 11-8 and having led or tied for the entire set, conceded four straight points to the Hawks, two kills from Bridges and two from freshman outside hitter Maddie Lindsay. Then, with the set knotted up at 16 apiece, Hartford scored six of the next seven points to create a sizable advantage that Stony Brook could not overcome, losing the third set by a score of 25-19.
In set four, it appeared as if the Seawolves had enough fight in them to force the winner-take-all fifth set. Stony Brook caught fire and exploited holes in the Hartford defense to go up 15-6. While the Hawks kept things competitive from there, the Seawolves still held on to a 20-13 lead before the momentum completely swung. Hartford picked apart Stony Brook’s backcourt and the Seawolves had no response for the Hawks’ vicious attack. Bridges and Lindsay did most of the damage for Hartford, piling on kills upon kills to grab the lead back on a match-closing 12-3 run. Bridges fittingly delivered the final blow to give the Hawks the 25-23 set win and the match in four, sending Stony Brook home with the unfamiliar feeling of a conference defeat. It took only the first match of the season for an opponent to do something no team could do all of last year.
Senior outside hitter Liz Pulver led Stony Brook with 17 kills, and her 150 kills on the season are a team-high. The loss was the first time that the Seawolves had lost to the Hawks since October 15, 2016, and Stony Brook still holds a 35-6 all-time record against Hartford.
The Seawolves will take a temporary break from America East action as they take on a non-conference opponent in the Columbia Lions of the Ivy League. The match is set to begin at 7 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 30 at the Francis S. Levien Gymnasium in Manhattan, New York.