Following a steady performance at the Tiger Invitational in Towson, Md., the UNH volleyball team (10-4) turns their focus to their fellow America East competitors. Conference play begins Friday, October 4 in Albany, N.Y. against the University at Albany Great Danes (5-9, 1-0). On Sunday, October 6 the Wildcats will head to Baltimore, Md. to face off with the UMBC Retrievers (3-11, 0-1).
While UNH is yet to play any America East teams, The Great Danes were in Baltimore last Friday for their bid against UMBC. In a five-set marathon, Albany escaped with a victory to put them in first place in the America East early on in the season.
Albany’s redshirt senior right-side hitter Akuabata Okenwa led the way for the Great Danes with 20 kills and five blocks. It’s rare to see a right-side hitter rack up that many kills in a game. Albany’s ability to attack from the right side should not be foreign to the Wildcats, as they deal with senior right-side hitter Hannah Petke in practice every day.
Petke has emerged as a true force this year; the senior is second on the team in kills with 121 so far. She only trails senior outside hitter Kennedi Smith, who has 130 kills on 429 attempts with 57 errors. Petke has 329 attacks with only 36 errors, good for a stellar hitting percentage of .258.
Petke’s blocking has been a plus too, as she has 54 total blocks ad averages 1.04 per set. This is especially important since her position is tasked with containing the opponent’s outside hitter, who usually has the highest volume of attack attempts.
Head coach Chris Feliciano is appreciative of Petke’s versatility. “Anytime you have a right-side that can score by both blocking and attacking your team is always going to do well, and we are really lucky to have (Petke) as a part of our team this year.”
The leader for UNH’s block is sophomore middle blocker Abby Sullivan. The Methuen, MA native currently sits at 35th in the country for blocks per set with 1.31 and is tied for 23rd in the nation with 68 total blocks. Sullivan made it a goal to improve her blocking this season, and the results have been tangible.
“We really prioritized blocking this year in our gym to add a different element of play, and the results have shown that in every match we either lead in blocks or force the other team to hit at a less than desirable hitting percentage, and Sullivan has been at the center of that,” said Feliciano.
Sullivan and Petke plan to keep dominating the net against familiar foes during conference play.
While UNH’s overall record is stronger than the rest of the America East, success within conference play is the determining factor for a bid to the NCAA tournament. This upcoming weekend will serve as a preview for what the remainder of the season has in store.