Senior libero Kardasia Hitchcock stood at the ready. With the score 20-19 in the fifth set, tension filled the Pritchard Gymnasium after the Stony Brook volleyball team relinquished a two-set lead early on and had the game on the line on defense. After the serve, Hitchcock spotted the loose ball and dove, just missing by inches as the New Hampshire Wildcats completed the comeback in five sets.
Stony Brook started the match with a first set win, generating six kills in the set through senior outside hitter Maria Poole, who had 14 total kills on the night to add onto two digs and a block assist. The Seawolves added a second consecutive 25-20 set win, and that is when Stony Brook started reeling. The Wildcats would dominate the third set 25-16 to avoid a sweep, but we’re not done there. New Hampshire would win a hotly contested fourth set to give way to an extremely tense fifth set due to the nature of the Seawolves blowing their two-set lead. Despite finding success early, the Seawolves would drop the fifth set 21-19 in a close loss on Senior Night.
“At the end of the day, we wanted this opportunity to shore us up for next weekend and honor our seniors,” head coach Kristin Belzung said. “I thought we started out really well, I thought our fight at the end was great. We had to execute a little bit better in the stretch but hopefully we can shore a couple of things up before going into next weekend and come out with a championship.”
Friday’s match served as Stony Brook’s Senior Night, in remembrance of the careers of the team’s six seniors: outside hitters Liz Pulver, Jordan Gels and Poole, libero Hitchcock, setter LeAnne Sakowicz and middle blocker Kendra Harlow. The seniors had 55 kills out of Stony Brook’s total of 74 throughout the matchup.
“This group has been pretty special for us,” Belzung said. “You don’t get a group of six that’s been on the court for three years very often.”
Pulver had 16 kills in the matchup against New Hampshire in her last-ever home game at Pritchard Gymnasium. She is enthusiastic about the Stony Brook volleyball program’s future in the upcoming years.
“All of our underclassmen are great,” Pulver said. “Enitan [Omolewa] is having a phenomenal last couple of weeks. She’s really killing it, so I’m super excited to see her future. I know it’s gonna be really bright and she’s turned it on a lot this last couple of weeks so I’m excited to see her. Really, everyone is going to be phenomenal.”
With this loss, the Seawolves will head into the America East Tournament — undoubtedly with some things to work on — and hope to go far if they succeed down the stretch.
“We’ve laid out a couple of things we feel like are important,” Belzung said. “I’ve been saying this for a few weeks, but transition scoring has been something we’ve put an emphasis on. I thought we actually did a much better job of that tonight early in the match and then we struggled as the match went on. I think that’s something I’d like to see us continue to get better at, and at the end of the day, we have got to serve and pass better. Too many errors in the reception part of the game, if we can shore that up and that… it gets a lot easier.”
Pulver also offered her keys for the Seawolves to be successful in the playoffs.
“I think just focusing on our execution down the stretch,” Pulver said. “Honestly, tonight we played a pretty good match. We just had some lulls, so really just shoring up those runs of three, four, five points and focusing on our execution, maybe a little more disciplined things. We’re in a good spot. We have an upward trajectory, so I’m excited for it.”
This is Stony Brook’s third loss in their last four games. They will finish the regular season with a record of 9-16, Belzung’s worst record as head coach at Stony Brook so far after accumulating 39 wins in her first two seasons. The Seawolves will travel to Albany to face off against the No. 1-seeded Great Danes on Friday, Nov. 22 amidst a battle of rivals in the America East Tournament. The last matchup Stony Brook had with the Great Danes in the playoffs came just last year, where the Seawolves captured the America East championship with a five-set win.