This past weekend, the Wildcats (6-11, 2-1) faced off against visiting Hartford (8-7, 1-2) on Friday and Stony Brook (9-8, 3-0) on Sunday.
A couple of key contributors returned this week for the volleyball team, as senior outside hitter Molly Wotton made her return wearing a Kyrie Irving-esque face mask against Hartford and junior right-side hitter Hannah Petke played against Stony Brook after missing several games.
The Wildcats were able to power past Hartford, sweeping the Hawks in three sets. This was good for their second straight sweep, coming off of their dominant performance against the struggling UMass Lowell River Hawks (1-15, 0-3).
Friday night went well for the Wildcats. They got off to a strong start with multiple kills from Wotton and strong serving to jump out to a 13-6 lead.
Hartford quickly recovered after trading points, and with a three-point streak they cut the Wildcat lead to 17-16 and eventually tied the match at 20-20.
Per usual the Wildcats set their captain when they needed the big kill, and she delivered. Time and time again senior middle blocker Gabri Olhava has stepped up when her team has needed her most. She spearheaded the offense all the way to the end of the set. Olhava converted, putting the Wildcats up 26-25. They were able to close out the set to win 27-25. Coach Jill Hirschinger praised the senior middle blocker after the match.
“If we don’t need a big hit we go to her, then if we do need one we go to Gabri, and it just happens to be at critical times. Physically, she’s dominant and she’s the one that’s going to put the ball down, so we put the ball in her hands.”
Olhava finished the match leading the Wildcats in kills with 14.
Set number two was tight to start, as the two teams traded points until the match was tied 9-9, then sophomore setter Emma Patlovich stepped up to serve. She aced the Hawks a couple of times, which started a 10-1 run for the Wildcats that included a kill and an ace from junior outside hitter Kennedi Smith.
To coach Hirschinger’s liking, the Wildcats excelled in passing and serving.
Hirschinger added, “Defense wins championships, passing and serving wins games.”
The third set was close in the beginning, as there were five lead changes until Smith recorded two aces and Olhava recorded two kills extending the UNH lead to 13-8.
Late in the set senior setter Mali Jereczek checked in, and recorded a game-winning ace to secure the sweep for the Wildcats.
Friday’s win made the Wildcats 2-0 in the conference.
In Sunday’s battle against Stony Brook, things did not go as well for the ‘Cats. Stony Brook broke out with an 8-2 lead and did not look back for the rest of the set, led by senior middle blocker McKayla Brooks. Brooks was a thorn in the Wildcats side throughout the match. Coach Hirschinger acknowledged the performance of the Stony Brook senior.
“She’s been a dominant force in the conference. She’s hard to stop. She’s going to get her kills, and we weren’t really concerned with her; we wanted to slow the ball down, but if we could contain their other hitters since one person is not going to beat you by themselves. She transitions fast, she’s got an incredible jump, she can hit over everybody.”
The Wildcats seemed to pull it together at first, sparked by the return of Petke to the lineup.
The set was tightly contested until Stony Brook began to pull away after the media timeout. Already with a 15-12 lead, the Seawolves won four out of the next seven points to extend their lead to 19-15. This forced coach Hirschinger to call a timeout.
Out of the timeout the Wildcats had some instant energy with a double block from Petke and Olhava and two kills from Petke, forcing Stony Brook to call a timeout of their own.
Olhava and Smith continued the comeback with three consecutive kills to bring them within one point of a tie.
At 23-22, Stony Brook called their second timeout. Whatever their coach said worked, since Stony Brook was able to close out and win the set 25-23.
The Wildcats made some adjustments for the third set, leaving Petke in the front and back row opposed to subbing in a defensive specialist for her. The ‘Cats started the set winning the first three points, followed by a 6-2 run fueled by two kills by Petke and a kill each from Smith and first-year middle blocker Maddie Wiedenfeld.
Holding onto a six-point lead, the Wildcats gave up back-to-back Stony Brook kills. Once the ‘Cats got the side out, junior defensive specialist Logan Welti served two consecutive aces to extend the UNH lead to 13-8.
The Wildcats continued to roll, extending their lead to 18-11 after two kills by Smith and one by Olhava.
The Seawolves fought back to bring the game within two points, forcing UNH to call their final timeout.
Olhava recorded two kills to close out the set 25-21.
The momentum did not ride into the fourth set, as Stony Brook broke out to a 14-9 lead after trading points in the beginning of the set. After the Wildcats called a time out, Stony Brook proceeded to score six points in a row to give them a 20-13 lead.
UNH fought back to cut the deficit to three points with kills from Petke, Olhava and Patlovich. Stony Brook stayed strong and finished the set 25-19.
The ‘Cats venture out to Baltimore, MD to face off against UMBC (4-12, 0-2) Friday, Sept. 6 at 7:00 p.m.
On Sunday Oct. 9, they return home to Durham to take on Binghamton (3-12, 1-1).