The Wildcats defeated the University at Albany for their unprecedented fourth straight America East Championship. UNH has been the number one seed in the past four tournaments as well as tournament host. The ‘Cats used the energy of a packed Lundholm Gymnasium to dominate the pace of play as they swept the Great Danes 3-0.
“My team just played incredible,” head coach Jill Hirschinger said. “The fan support here was awesome.”
As the seniors played their last game at Lundholm, they did not leave without one last hurrah. Keelin Severtson was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player as she tallied 34 assists in both the semifinal matchup against Binghamton and the championship match.
“The senior class, all they know is winning championships,” Hirschinger said.
Recently named America East Player of the Year, Demi Muses finished her final conference tournament game with a match-high ten kills and added ten digs. Muses was the spark plug all season for the ‘Cats, and the championship match was no different.
Sara Carlson, in her first and final year with the team, added 13 digs and an ace. The four-year UNH hockey player joined the volleyball squad the in spring season and in a few short months she established herself as one of the best defensive players of the team, and became a starter.
“I’ve never felt this at the collegiate level, nothing really prepares you for it,” Carlson said. “My teammates and coaches really believed in me, it was definitely not an easy task switching from ice hockey to volleyball, but it was worth it”.
Freshman Kennedi Smith and Emily Tanski added 8 kills and 7 kills respectively. Tanski also added an assist.
“[Smith] is explosive, she’s hard to stop, hard to read,” Hirschinger said. “She’s really frustrating to the other team because they think they have her blocked and she just rips it down the line.”
Hirschinger has now won four straight conference tournaments, but her tactics of her success are unique.
“I told [them] they can’t even think about winning, winning doesn’t matter. We need to worry about work,” Hirschinger said.
“I owe a lot of these four championships to my coaches,” Muses said. “They pushed us so hard to work for this day and its showing up, so this is all for them.”
As Muses and Carlson were a bit optimistic on the team’s chance of heading back to the America East final, Keelin Severtson was not. When asked if she was expecting another trip to the finals, her expectation wasn’t a trip back to the finals, but to win.
“I thought that 100 percent,” Severtson said on the chance of winning her fourth straight conference title.
This year started with a lot of question marks for the Wildcats, as they lost their first two games to Navy and the University of Delaware, and got swept by Fresno State in the home-opener.
The number of freshman seemed to be an issue early, but as they gained experience the team only got better. The pinnacle of the team’s success is the active nine-game winning streak highlighted by a conference championship.
UNH only lost one set in the month of November. They were 17-1 in set differentials and they failed to lose a set in the America East playoffs.
UNH now heads to the NCAA tournament for their seeming routine trip. The ‘Cats will likely receive a higher seed as last year when they drew the No. 3 ranked Florida Gators.
In typical Hirschinger and UNH fashion, the credit of four straight years of domination in America East play was taken reluctantly, as they only complemented their attitude and effort, rather their experienced coaching staff and deeply talented roster.
“The only place winning comes before work is in the dictionary,” Hirschinger said.