By ANDREW YOURELL
The America East conference may want to consider a name change. So far, 2015 has been Wildcat Central.
The UNH volleyball team battered the UMass-Lowell River Hawks in three sets on Sunday, for their fourth straight conference win. But it’s not just the winning that’s impressed: it’s the manner in which the ‘Cats have trounced opponents early in the season. The two-time defending conference champions boast a 12-0 set record, after claiming all three sets—25-12, 25-21, 25-7—on Sunday.
Paving the way for the Wildcats in the matchup were junior middle blocker Demi Muses, last week’s America East Player of the Week, senior outside hitter Tori Forrest, and senior libero Madison Lightfoot, last week’s Defensive Specialist of the Week award winner in the conference.
“It’s a great position to be in,” head coach Jill Hirschinger said. “Right now we’ll celebrate for about a minute, and then we’ll start looking forward to next weekend with UMBC and Stony Brook at home.”
The ‘Cats didn’t take much time getting going, as they raced out to a 25-12 first set victory, never trailing at any point in the set.
The second stanza was less polished, as UMass-Lowell hopped out to an early 4-0 lead. UNH called timeout down 6-1, and the break gave the ‘Cats a chance to regroup. They slowly chipped away at the deficit, tying the set for the first time at 13-13, then taking a 15-14 lead. They poured it on en route to the 25-21 set final, grabbing a 2-0 lead in the process.
The Wildcats traded points with the River Hawks in the third set, before Demi Muses took over the UNH serve with the score knotted at 6-6. Muses rattled off four aces during her service period, adding some crucial digs and two big kills as UNH went on a 15-point run. UMass-Lowell finally regained the serve down 21-7, though they couldn’t mount any kind of comeback, as Muses and Gabri Olhava slammed the door shut, handing UNH the 25-7 third set victory and the 3-0 match win.
Hirschinger’s team hasn’t let winning get to its head, and remains focused despite cutting through opponents like they’re Thanksgiving turkey.
“We need to respect our opponents, we need to work as hard as we can, really try to better the ball every single play,” Muses said. According to the UNH star, the team goal isn’t just to win—it’s to play the best play that UNH can, every single time.
Muses recorded her seventh double-double of the season, with 10 kills and 12 digs to her credit. She chipped in a block as well, but her biggest contribution was the four service aces she delivered in the third set, which helped UNH pull away from a 6-6 tie.
Forrest, one of the team’s co-captains along with Lightfoot, logged 10 kills and a 10 digs to spark the offense. Described by Hirschinger as a “student of the game,” the 5-foot-11-inch Forrest seemed to find every hole or wrinkle in the River Hawk’s defense.
Lightfoot patrolled the back of the court, scooping nine digs, one of the few times she’s failed to reach double digits this season. But the senior already holds the UNH career record for digs, and continues to add to her mark with every set.
Junior setter Keelin Severtson dished out a team-high 39 assists to facilitate the offense, spreading the ball to a number of weapons. Also playing an important role for the ‘Cats were Cassidy Croci and Abby Brinkman, who had a number of huge kills in the second set slugfest. In the third set, Olhava registered six kills to help throttle the River Hawk attack.
“[Severtson] is doing a really great job spreading out the offense, and I think that’s something that is really hard for other teams to play against us,” Muses said. “We don’t have just one go-to hitter, you know. All three of our hitters are very, very strong.”
The Wildcats will try to continue their impressive streak at home, with a weekend doubleheader on the horizon. The University of Maryland Baltimore County will square off with the ‘Cats on Friday at 7 p.m. UNH will then take on the Stony Brook Seawolves at 4 p.m. on Sunday.
UNH continues to roll through America East play
By ANDREW YOURELL