In an opening weekend full of sweeps, the Stony Brook women’s volleyball team came out on the wrong side of the tournament.
Participating in the Liberty Tournament down in Virginia, the Seawolves (1-2) began their 2023 season unfavorably. They opened the tournament with a 3-0 sweep of the Bucknell Bison (1-2) on Friday morning, but the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs (1-2) swept them later that afternoon. Stony Brook wrapped up the weekend against tournament hosts the Liberty Flames (3-0) and were again swept 3-0.
The Seawolves started off hot, dominating Bucknell in all three sets. Leading 17-16 in the first match, middle blocker Abby Campbell spearheaded a 6-0 run that gave Stony Brook a commanding seven-point lead. She recorded three kills during that stretch before block assists by Bucknell middle blocker Sidney Shaffer and setter Laura Caro took the ball out of the Seawolves’ hands.
The Bison inched closer by going on a 4-1 run, but a kill by outside hitter Kali Moore slammed the door on the first set, giving her team a 25-20 victory.
The second match was less competitive than the first. After falling behind 2-1, a kill by outside hitter Leoni Kunz sparked an 8-1 run by Stony Brook, including six points in a row. Now with a 9-3 advantage, the Seawolves never looked back. Bucknell never cut its deficit lower than three points for the rest of the match, allowing Stony Brook to go up 2-0 with a 25-18 win.
The Seawolves played from behind in the third match and completed the sweep in comeback fashion. After Bucknell took a 13-11 lead, a kill by pin hitter Ava Jackson set up a streak of five unanswered points from Stony Brook. During the stretch, Campbell scored 2.5 points with a pair of kills and a block assist, while Jackson capped off the streak with another kill. The Seawolves continued to control the pace from there and went on a 5-2 run, taking a 21-16 lead.
Three errors in a row by Stony Brook allowed Bucknell to close the gap and make it 21-19. However, a block assist by setter Torri Henry and middle blocker Ashleigh Woodruff gave the Seawolves the ball back. Moore and Kunz recorded back-to-back kills off assists by Henry to put them one point away from a victory. On the final serve, Moore and Woodruff blocked an attack attempt from Bucknell outside hitter Bri Frazilus to lock down the sweep.
Though head coach Kristin Belzung does not mind winning ugly, she was glad that her team was able to win in a tidy fashion.
“I’m proud of our ability to stay clean in the serve and pass game and disciplined defensively to get [the win],” Belzung said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics.
Later in the day, Stony Brook was a different team against Gardner-Webb. However, the first set was very competitive. In a match that saw four lead changes and 14 ties, the Runnin’ Bulldogs came out with the win. The Seawolves led 16-14, but a 4-0 run by Gardner-Webb put it behind 18-16. They came back to tie it three separate times after that, leading to a 23-23 deadlock. Gardner-Webb outside hitter Jenna Otts killed a serve by Jackson to break the tie. On the ensuing serve, Otts won the game with another kill off an assist from Gardner-Webb setter Morgan Hornaday.
The second match started off competitively as well, with Stony Brook jumping out to a 12-10 lead. The Runnin’ Bulldogs came back to take a 13-12 lead, but a block assist by Kunz and middle blocker Katie Hickey knotted things up at 13 apiece. After that, Gardner-Webb ran away with it, finishing the game on a 12-2 run. This time it was Hornaday who clinched the victory, earning the game-ending kill to win it 25-15.
The Seawolves dug themselves too steep a hole in the third set, falling behind 14-4. They got themselves back into the game with a 7-1 run led by three errors by Gardner-Webb. The early deficit was simply too much to overcome, allowing Gardner-Webb to win 25-19 and sweep the match, handing the Seawolves their first loss of the year.
Belzung felt the team pulled punches in its second match of the day.
“The quick turnaround against Gardner-Webb was tough emotionally and physically,” Belzung said. “We had more to give and we have to find ways to earn more points, even if it’s not clean and pretty volleyball.”
The next day, Stony Brook was much stronger against Liberty. The improvement was still not enough to avoid a sweep.
The opening set featured six lead changes and 13 ties, but the Flames walked away with a 25-21 victory. Liberty outside hitter Kate Phillips recorded back-to-back kills off assists from setter Delaney Dilfer to secure the win.
Stony Brook jumped out to a 9-6 lead in the second set, but an 11-2 run by Liberty put the game out of reach. After falling behind 17-11, the Seawolves never got within six points, giving the Flames a 25-17 triumph.
The team had a chance to prolong the match in the final set, but it blew a late lead to secure the sweep. A kill by Campbell and three straight errors by Liberty put Stony Brook on a 4-1 run, giving it a 13-9 lead. The game was back and forth from that point forward. The Flames went on to take a 17-16 lead before Jackson, Moore and Campbell led the Seawolves to five consecutive points. Now winning 21-17, the Seawolves failed to finish off Liberty, who promptly went on a 5-1 run to tie the set at 22 apiece.
Jackson broke the tie by killing a serve from Dilfer, but Blane tied the set back up with a kill on the following serve. Now with the ball in Liberty’s hands, Moore committed an attack error to put the Flames in front. Blane then finished Stony Brook off with another kill off a Dilfer assist to put an end to the Liberty Tournament.
From a statistical standpoint, the Seawolves played evenly with their opponents over the weekend. However, it was their attacking errors that killed them. They committed 54 errors while attacking, 18 more than their opponents. As a result, their hit percentage (.158) was 10% lower than their opponents (.258).
Stony Brook dominated on serves, recording 25 aces to its opponents’ 10. The team was also on par with its opponents defensively, as it recorded the same number of digs (145) as its opponents while having just 2.5 fewer blocks.
Jackson had a big first weekend in the NCAA, leading the team with 30 points. She also had the second-most service aces (seven) and the third-most kills (21) on the squad. Moore led the team with 25 kills and was second with 26 points. Kunz was second on the team with 23 kills and a .304 hit percentage. Campbell led the group with a .316 hit percentage and was tied for third in points with Kunz, as they both scored 24.5. Henry had a great weekend running the offense, recording 92 assists in nine sets played.
On defense, libero Julia Patsos led the team with 44 digs. Campbell led the team with eight total blocks (one solo and seven assists), followed by Henry and Woodruff, who each had seven.
Stony Brook will be back in action on Friday, as it will participate in the Saint Francis Tournament in Pennsylvania. It will open up against the Purdue Fort Wayne Mastodons, who are 0-3 after dropping all three of their matches in the Ball State Invitational.