Senior outside hitter Jordan Gels in a game against Hartford on Oct. 25. Gels had a season-high 14 kills, leading the Stony Brook volleyball team. DESHAUN ROBINSON/THE STATESMAN

Needing a win to remain afloat in the America East playoff picture, the Stony Brook volleyball team began the second wave of conference play by taking down the Hartford Hawks in four sets on Friday, Oct. 25, improving to 8-13 (3-3 AE). Facing the same team that had defeated them just a month ago, Stony Brook overcame an initial deficit to earn the win in front of the home crowd, moving them into a tie with the Hawks for third place in the America East.

The Seawolves, having controlled the momentum of the match since the second set, needed to stave off a Hartford team that was suddenly threatening while on the brink of elimination. Hawks freshman outside hitter Maddie Lindsay’s attack error at match point secured the hard-fought victory.

“I didn’t think we played terrible in the first set,” head coach Kristin Belzung said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “There were just a couple things that didn’t go our way, so I don’t think we had to fully regroup going into the second set as much as just shore up a couple things here and there to put us in a position to be successful.”

While Stony Brook jumped out to a quick 7-4 lead in the first set, Hartford was able to capitalize on multiple errors, scoring five straight points to go on top and forcing the Seawolves to play from behind for the rest of the set. Mistakes continued to punish Stony Brook later on in the frame, allowing Hartford to widen their lead as they began to pull away. Sophomore middle blocker Valerie Diede earned the kill that gave the Hawks the 25-20 set one victory. The Seawolves committed eight errors, almost half of their match total, en route to a .140 hitting percentage, and it proved to be the difference in a tightly-fought set.

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The Seawolves exhibited much cleaner play in the second frame, taking the lead with a strong start and holding onto it by refusing to let the Hawks gain any momentum. Senior middle blocker Jenna Bridges kept Hartford in it with a nine-kill set, but Stony Brook was up by as much as five, ultimately winning set two 25-21 on a kill by senior outside hitter Liz Pulver.

The third set began in a deadlock, but the Seawolves were the team that pulled ahead, forcing Hartford head coach Vinh Nguyen to call a timeout with Stony Brook up 12-8. The Seawolves continued their tight play from the last frame, committing zero errors while shutting down Bridges, limiting the Hawks star to just three kills on ten total attempts. Stony Brook’s offense passed through senior outside hitter Jordan Gels, who recorded six kills in the set, including the final one that gave the Seawolves a 25-17 win and the 2-1 lead in the match.

Stony Brook’s momentum carried with them into the beginning of set four, quickly going up 7-2. Hartford chipped away at the lead as the set progressed, eventually tying the score at 16 after a called timeout led to the Hawks exhibiting more aggressive blocking in a four-point run. The Seawolves responded with five in a row to make it 22-17, yet burned both of their timeouts as the Hawks threatened to complete a comeback, bringing the score to 23-22. A pair of Hartford attack errors sealed the victory for Stony Brook, who did not trail in almost the entire last three sets.

Stony Brook initially struggled to contain Bridges, reigning America East Player of the Year, as she single-handedly carried the Hartford offense in the first two sets. Bridges’s 15 kills in that timespan were almost half of Hartford’s team total of 31.

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“Knowing that they’ve got the returning Player of the Year, that’s something that has been a challenge,” Belzung said. “They’ve got a player you know you need to shut down in order to be successful, and I thought we did a really good job managing her tonight even though the statline may show something a little different.”

Bridges, who finished the night as the overall leader in kills with 20, was noticeably shut down in the back half of the match, landing just five in 18 total attempts. She committed a season-high nine errors as Stony Brook read her shots up the middle and blocked them well.

Gels led all Seawolves with a season-high 14 kills, while senior middle blocker Kendra Harlow had 13; both hit .333 and were the team’s most lethal weapons during the match.

“It’s just good to be back on the court coming back from injury,” Gels said in a postgame interview with The Statesman. “I’m excited to play again, and I love my team so much.”

The Seawolves return to the court on Friday, Nov. 1 to take on the Binghamton Bearcats in the Pritchard Gymnasium at 6:30 p.m. Having swept Binghamton in their first meeting on Oct. 6, Stony Brook will look to earn the season sweep against a Bearcats team that is still winless at 0-18.

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