By ANDREW YOURELL
It was a tough weekend for the Wildcats’ volleyball team, which failed to win a set en route to three losses in the Holly Young Invitational in the Lundholm Gymnasium.
On Friday night, the team lost to the University of Delaware Blue Hens 3-0 (18-25, 21-25, 13-25), then lost to the highly touted Michigan State Spartans 3-0 (23-25, 9-25, 15-25) on Saturday afternoon. The tournament ended with a 3-0 (16-25, 17-25, 16-25) loss to the Boston College Eagles on Saturday night.
“We scheduled a really tough tournament and brought some great volleyball here, and I saw my team do some really good things,” head coach Jill Hirschinger said, when asked about trying to find some positives in the tournament.
UNH entered the weekend riding a six-game win streak and an overall record of 6-2. The two-time defending America East champions were off to one of the hottest starts in Hirschinger’s 20-year tenure at UNH.
One of the biggest issues that Hirschinger saw with her team throughout the course of the weekend was a lack of chemistry and an inability to focus for the entire set, which allowed the three opponents to make some big runs that the ‘Cats couldn’t come back from.
“I thought we didn’t play well as a team,” Hirschinger said. “The communication really broke down…that’s what pressure does, is make your systems break down.”
On Friday night, against the Blue Hens, the Wildcats opened the first set with a series of long volleys, but Delaware opened up a big lead that UNH couldn’t come back from to claim the first set. In the second set, the two teams battled for supremacy, with nine lead changes and 17 tie scores, before Delaware took advantage of holes in the UNH defense, taking four straight points after tying it up at 21-21, winning the second set. In the third set, Delaware launched out to an 8-2 lead early, building its momentum to a 21-8 lead late in the final set. The ‘Cats clawed their way back as well as they could, but it was too little too late, and they dropped the third set as well, 25-13.
In the first match, Demi Muses led the team with nine kills, falling just short of a double-double, as she also tallied 12 digs. Senior co-captain Tori Forrest logged a season-high 18 digs of her own, to go along with seven kills. Junior setter Keelin Severtson led the team with 23 assists in the contest.
On Saturday, at 12:30 p.m., the ‘Cats took on Michigan State, which has been ranked as high as No. 19 in the NCAA this season. The Spartans had already claimed a three set victory over the Eagles in the first matchup of the tournament on Friday afternoon.
In the first set, UNH quickly fell behind, 11-16. But a kill by Muses gave UNH the serve, and the junior quickly added two aces, then a dig that led to another UNH point, and the match was nearly knotted up, 15-16. The ‘Cats would earn a tie at 18 points, then get two more aces, this time from Forrest, to catapult to a 20-18 lead. From there, however, it was back and forth, with Michigan State finally prevailing, winning the first set by two points.
In the second set, MSU jumped out to an early 9-1 lead, before Abby Brinkman, ended the run after subbing in. The respite didn’t last long, however, as the Spartans claimed the next point to regain the serve and a 10-2 lead. From there, it was all Michigan State. Despite tough play from the Wildcats, it seemed as though nearly every volley ended with Michigan State powering the ball to holes in the UNH defense. The set eventually ended in a loss for the Wildcats, 9-25.
In the third set, the Wildcats fought hard to keep it close early, but Michigan State was able to make runs that allowed them to jump out to another large lead, one that they would hold onto. UNH battled out of each stoppage in play, scoring points off almost all of their timeouts in the match, but were ultimately unable to string points together to make any runs of their own.
“When you call timeout, you want to get your team refocused, and I think that’s what they did, they got refocused,” Hirschinger said. “You don’t have to say much, you just give them a little break, gather them, and come up with a strategy or something for them to focus on.”
The team leaders in the second match were Forrest, with seven kills and nine digs, Muses, who notched a career-high four service aces to go along with six kills, and senior co-captain and defensive specialist Madison Lightfoot, with 19 digs. Severtson again led the team in assists, this time with 12.
In the “Pack the Arena” matchup against Boston College, the ‘Cats came out of the gates well, but again were unable to string together long sets of points. The team managed some consistency, and the communication that Hirschinger noted as a weakness all weekend seemed better against the Eagles, but ultimately they dropped each set, 16-25, 17-25, 16-25.
Against the Eagles, some new players stepped up to lead the team. Brinkman led the team with eight kills, several of them coming at key points in the matchup, and Gabri Olhava added a few kills, along with two huge blocks that gave the ‘Cats some momentum throughout the night. Severtson dominated the assists again, dishing out 18 of the team’s 23 in the game. Lightfoot, who was the lone UNH representative on the All-Tournament team, patrolled the backcourt with another 15 digs.
The Wildcats don’t have long before they’re back in action, as the team travels south on Tuesday, Sept. 15, to take on Harvard University at 7 p.m. The team then looks towards defending its conference crown when the University of Hartford comes to Durham on Friday, Sept. 25, at 7 p.m. The Hartford game will mark UNH’s first conference match. for the ‘Cats in 2015.