The Stony Brook volleyball team needed to be perfect on Sunday, March 28 against the Binghamton Bearcats while also requiring some help if they wanted to clinch a spot in the conference playoffs. Traditionally a four-team tournament, the postseason was reduced to a one-match championship featuring the top two teams due to the pandemic.
Stony Brook entered Sunday at 6-4, needing to win both matches against Binghamton while requiring UMBC, a game ahead at 7-3, to lose both matches against Hartford. UMBC earned the tiebreaker over Stony Brook when the Retrievers swept the Seawolves in February.
UMBC would sweep Hartford to clinch a spot in the title match against the Albany Great Danes with a 9-3 conference record. Stony Brook swept Binghamton in match one but was on the receiving end of a sweep in match two to end America East play at 7-5. With the fourth-best conference winning percentage, the Seawolves would have qualified for the playoffs in a normal year.
However, this is no normal year.
“This has been such a challenging year for so many reasons,” head coach Kristin Belzung said in a press release. “I’m incredibly proud of our group for fighting through a lot of adversity and dealing with all of the changes and protocols along the way. It has not been easy, and they deserve a ton of credit for showing up to get better every day.”
Binghamton entered Sunday’s doubleheader at 0-10 and dropped to 0-11 after being swept in the first match. The Bearcats also went 0-23 last season and owned a 36-match losing streak dating back to 2018, which was snapped during Sunday’s second match victory.
Sophomore outside hitter Amiyah De’Long led the Seawolves with 10 kills during their sweep in the first match.
Stony Brook won the first set 25-22, going up by as much eight points before fighting off a late Binghamton run and winning the frame on a Bearcats attack error. The second set was a more back-and-forth affair, but the Seawolves broke a tie using four straight Bearcats errors and won 25-23. Junior outside hitter Hailey Barden earned the decisive kill. Set three was also closely fought, but Stony Brook again was able to capitalize off Binghamton miscues in key moments to win 25-22.
The Seawolves were swept in the latter half of Sunday’s doubleheader to snap a three-match winning streak. Binghamton was more aggressive, notching 48 team kills with a .277 hitting percentage. De’Long and freshman outside hitter Leoni Kunz led the team with eight kills each.
Binghamton scored seven straight points in the first set to break a tie and ultimately win 25-23. In set two, Stony Brook put together five in a row to tie the game at 16 but fell 26-24 after a De’Long attack error. The Seawolves ended Sunday with the most lopsided set of the match, a 25-19 loss that was again evenly played until the Bearcats took over late.
Senior libero Kiani Kerstetter and redshirt-sophomore middle blocker Enitan Omolewa did not play on Sunday. Kerstetter, the reigning America East Defensive Specialist of the Year, ends her career second on Stony Brook’s all-time digs leaderboard with 1,595 digs.
“Thank you to Kiani for everything she has done for our program these last four years,” Belzung said. “Her impact will continue to be felt in our culture for years to come. While she is a big loss, we have a bright future ahead with the young group that was on the court this year.”
Stony Brook ends the abbreviated Spring 2021 season at 7-8 overall and 7-5 in conference play, improving on a 9-17 (4-6 AE) record in 2019.
Kunz is the Seawolves’ season kill leader with 135. With freshman middle blocker Abby Campbell second with 106 and freshman outside hitter Lauren Schmitz third with 103, the rookies carried a team that was competitive in many of its losses.
“I’m proud of the development they have shown in a short time and know we will be a more experienced team this fall thanks to the opportunity to compete this spring season,” Belzung said.