By Josh Sullivan
Sports Editor
The University of New Hampshire volleyball team defeated the University of Albany, 3-1, en route to its second America East championship in as many years on Saturday in Durham. The squad was led by stellar play from sophomore Demi Muses, who won the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, and senior Taylor Dunklau.
“I thought Albany really took us out of our game, served really well, they passed tough and they placed really good defense,” said UNH head coach Jill Hirschinger. “Once we started serving and passing better, our entire game started to come together.”
Though the first set was never out of reach for either team, the ‘Cats (11-1 in the America East, 19-11 overall) came out of the gate dealing. Junior outside hitter Tori Forrest was responsible for three of the first four Wildcat kills.
The entire first set was back and forth, and UNH held the lead four times with Albany (7-5 America East, 10-15 overall) coming back to tie it each time before taking their first lead of the set 10-9.
UNH would go up 14-10 thanks to the play of Dunklau, who seemed to be anywhere the ball was, keeping what seemed like dead plays alive and earning tough points.
After exchanging leads several times, UNH held a 24-22 advantage over Albany when Katie Sattora would the get the set-ending kill, and the Wildcats led 1-0.
UNH and Albany exchanged the lead in the second set several times until Albany pulled ahead 17-13. Vicious spikes from sophomore outside hitter Amy Hunter had UNH struggling. Albany won the set 25-17 and the match was tied at 1.
After falling behind to Albany early in the third set, Demi Muses grabbed a hold of the game and brought the Wildcats within two points. A big block at the net, a serve and a dig brought the ‘Cats within a point, and Forrest got yet another kill to even the set at 11.
“[Muses] is a flashy player,” Hirschinger said. “She blocks for us, she’ll put some kills down and she plays well all the way around.”
Cassidy Croci kept the Great Danes at bay with several blocks up front. Down 23-19, Brenna Buckwalter entered the set in place of midback Katie Sattora.
Buckwalter made her impact known right away after a monster kill that cut the Albany lead down to three. After two long returns and a set that landed out of bounds, the Wildcats found themselves tied with Albany in the third set. At 24-24, Croci finessed a ball past an Albany returner and watch it hit the four past the outstretched arms of Viktoriia Stroilo. Danklau fired the ball past Albany for a kill, and then an Albany return that landed out of bounds gave UNH the 27-25 victory, and put the match at 2-1 Wildcats. 
Buckwalter was a workhorse for the ‘Cats all afternoon, playing the rest of the third set with a plugged up bloody nose and crashing into the media table to keep a ball in play in the ‘Cats monstrous fourth set.
“Brenna, I feel like the more injured she is the better she plays out there,” said freshman outside hitter Abby Brinkman.
Dunklau, who also stayed rolling, opened the fourth set with an ace. UNH hopped out to a 12-4 lead early, largely thanks to consistency by Brinkman and Muses. The two combined for seven straight points, three from kills by Brinkman and two attributed to Muses on a kill and a block. The two combined for nine straight points for UNH before Forrest got a kill of her own. The Wildcats plugged away, carrying the momentum they gained in the previous set and taking the fourth one 25-13 as the players flooded the court in celebration.
“That’s all momentum,” Brinkman said of the Wildcats stellar fourth set. “We were just feeding off of each others energy, and our tempo was perfect and when that’s happening it’s just unstoppable.”
Dunklau was fantastic on the day as well, finishing with 48 assists topping Albany’s team total of 47.
“I will miss Taylor,” Brinkman said. “We’re spoiled with her and she’s an honor to play with.”
The championship is Hirschinger’s fifth in her career.
“We had a lot of heart coming off of our second game, and we were just like ‘alright, we want this championship,’” Muses said.
With the win, UNH earned itself a spot in the NCAA tournament. The team will find out who they play Sunday, Nov. 30 at 8:30 p.m.
Follow Josh Sullivan on Twitter @JSully27.