Senior Day was spoiled as the Stony Brook volleyball team fell two spots in the America East standings after losing in straight sets to the first-place UMBC Retrievers on Friday, Nov. 12 at Pritchard Gymnasium.
The Seawolves finish the regular season with a 13-13 (7-5 AE) record, while the Retrievers improved to 17-11 (12-0 AE) a week before UMBC hosts the America East championship tournament.
Four seniors were honored in a pregame ceremony: outside hitter Hailey Barden, middle blocker Enitan Omolewa and liberos Paige Jaeger and Sabrina Patriciello.
“This group has just been with us as a coaching staff from the first day,” head coach Kristin Belzung said in an interview with The Statesman. “I think people from the outside might look at this group and say it’s some defensive specialists and maybe they don’t know as much about them, but they’ve been really steady role players for us and have had a huge impact on our culture. It’s really sad that we’re losing them.”
The first set went back and forth to start, until a 4-0 run gave the Seawolves a 10-7 lead. The Retrievers answered with a 5-1 run to take a 12-11 lead, but the Seawolves quickly regained the lead at 14-12. After an emphatic block by sophomore setter Torri Henry gave Stony Brook a 17-16 lead, the Retrievers went on a 4-0 run to go ahead 20-17. The Seawolves’ comeback effort fell short, as UMBC took the first set 25-21.
The Seawolves looked to bounce back with a strong start to the second set, taking a 3-1 lead and maintaining the two-point advantage until a 4-0 run gave UMBC a 10-8 lead. After trading 3-0 runs, the Retrievers stayed in control and expanded their lead to 19-15, forcing a Stony Brook timeout. The Seawolves couldn’t get much offense going following the timeout, and a 3-0 run punctuated the Retrievers’ 25-18 set two victory.
Looking to put the match away, the Retrievers opened the third set on a 5-0 run to force an early Stony Brook timeout. While the Seawolves got on the scoreboard following the timeout, the Retrievers used a 4-0 run to help extend their lead to 13-5. Out of the timeout, the Seawolves chipped away at the deficit with a few short runs before a 5-0 run helped them come all the way back to force an 18-18 tie. The Seawolves never took the lead, however, as the Retrievers went on a 3-0 run before trading points until the conclusion of their 25-22 sweep-clinching set three win.
“I was really excited about our compete [factor] at the end of the third set,” Belzung said. “I thought we actually finally settled in in the third set and executed the game plan stuff. I thought the first set was almost like we were trying to do too many things instead of trusting that we were good enough at our level to compete and win the way we needed to win. So, I felt like at the end of that third set, we finally got to the level that we needed to be at.”
While the Seawolves were able to hold UMBC to a .137 hitting percentage, the Retrievers’ worst mark against an America East opponent this season, Stony Brook’s season-low .074 hitting percentage was too much to overcome.
Stony Brook fell to fourth place with the loss, as Albany’s win over Binghamton propelled the Great Danes to second place. The Seawolves’ playoff seed will depend on the outcome of New Hampshire’s final two games against Binghamton and Hartford on Saturday and Sunday, respectively. The Seawolves will need the Wildcats to lose both matches to move up to the third seed, otherwise they will remain in the fourth spot and have a rematch against first place UMBC.
While the Seawolves finish the regular season with a record above .500, they went 1-5 against the other playoff teams, with the one win coming in five sets at home against New Hampshire. But Belzung is confident about next weekend’s tournament.
“The nice thing about going into this is we know the opponents really well,” Belzung said. “It’s a matter of who can execute at the highest level and, and who has the confidence to be able to compete the way that we need to compete to win a championship and I feel good about our group. Even though we haven’t won these matches, I still feel like we’re continuing to progress and get better every week.”
The Seawolves will head to Baltimore for the America East championship tournament on Friday, Nov. 19 and Saturday, Nov. 20.