By ANDREW YOURELL
For the volleyball team, the America East schedule has been a cakewalk in 2015, but no one in the program would underestimate an opponent by saying that.
UNH is currently 3-0 in the America East conference, and 11-7 overall. The three wins came against Hartford, Albany, and Binghamton, all by scores of 3-0, and the ‘Cats are hoping to take that momentum into a weekend tilt with the UMass-Lowell River Hawks. The game starts at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
“Every match we play is important,” head coach Jill Hirschinger said as her team prepares to take on the River Hawks. “Every one affects your record the same.”
That’s the 3-15 River Hawks, who have an 0-2 conference record. To Hirschinger and the ‘Cats, what’s in the past is in the past, and all that matters now is making sure that they’re ready to keep rolling.
“They’ve got two very tall middle hitters,” Hirschinger said. “They’re a scrappy team, they put their heart into every play.”
UMass-Lowell features five players over 6-feet tall: Haley Shimon and Lady Adeniyi measure in at 6-foot and 6-foot-1-inch, respectively, and the two freshmen are the team leaders in kills, with 134 and 113. Lauren Bennett and Elma Ahzi, junior blockers measuring at 6-feet-4-inches and 6-foot, join the rookie duo up front.
The height advantage and scrappy play are two factors Hirschinger thinks will give the River Hawks the opportunity to pull out an upset win in the Lundholm Gymnasium. Hirschinger has preached to her team that the Wildcats’ grip over the top spot in the conference comes at a price—every team is gunning for them and will bring its best game when it gets the chance to take on the Wildcats.
But UNH has done a good job of maintaining focus this season, with senior co-captain Tori Forrest stressing before the first conference game that last year’s championship was last year, and the team is only concerned with winning this year’s conference title.
In last weekend’s road trip, the Wildcats were led by junior middle blocker Demi Muses and senior defensive specialist Madison Lightfoot, who swept the America East weekly awards on Monday as they were named Player of the Week and Defensive Specialist of the Week, respectively.
Muses logged 12 kills in both games, and added 16 digs in the Albany game and 10 in the tilt with Binghamton. The two double-doubles give Muses six double-double performances this season.
Lightfoot, who is the team’s other co-captain and the UNH career leader in digs, added to her total tally over the weekend. Against Albany, Lightfoot recorded 17 digs, and just missed out on replicating the feat against Binghamton, where she had 16 digs. In total, Lightfoot has 277 digs this season, to bring her career total to 1,526. She broke the old UNH record of 1,398 in a September tournament win over Buffalo.
“Both Maddy and Demi had strong weekends,” Hirschinger said, stressing how tough the New York venues were to play in. “On the road, and the No. 1 seed, that’s the match everyone promotes…it’s always tough playing on the road in those environments.”
In addition to their stellar kill and dig numbers, one of the reasons UNH has had so much success against America East opponents is its strong service game. UNH has 110 service aces this season, and has gotten strong performances from a number of individuals, which Hirschinger finds promising.
Leading the way for the Wildcats is junior setter Keelin Severtson, who has baffled opponents off the serve 33 times already this season. Severtson’s growth has been instrumental in the team’s dominant play. The team returned a number of seniors and starters from last year’s championship team, but Severtson was tasked with replacing America East Setter of the Year and Player of the Year Taylor Dunklau, who graduated in May.
Muses and Forrest are second and third on the team, respectively, in aces, with 18 and 16 apiece. Sophomore Courtney Bowman is next in line, with 13, and Lightfoot and senior Maggie Kinney round out the athletes with double-digit service aces.
“We’re doing a great job picking our targets, who we want to serve at,” Hirschinger said. “The team is really executing.”
The Wildcats will look to continue their crisp execution when the River Hawks come to town. UNH has yet to drop a set in conference play, and will try to extend that streak to 12-0 to improve its overall conference record to 4-0.
The game will take place Sunday at 1 p.m. in the Lundholm Gymnasium, and Hirschinger encourages UNH students, faculty and fans to show up for the game in Sunday blues.
‘Cats eye America East prey
By ANDREW YOURELL