Senior day always makes for a game of high emotion, and Sunday’s bid against UAlbany (11-10, 6-1) was no different. A hot start, an injury and a little bit of animosity made for an entertaining end for the UNH volleyball team’s (15-7, 5-2) home season.
The two teams entered the match as the cream of the crop in the America East. UAlbany entered the match undefeated in the division. In their last matchup, the Great Danes swept UNH in Albany, N.Y.
Stakes are high at this point in the season, as playoff seeding is being decided through these next few games. UNH has three games remaining, all of which are on the road. The ‘Cats will face lowly Binghamton (0-20, 0-7), defending champion Stony Brook (9-13, 2-5) and Hartford (13-11, 4-3). The Wildcats currently stand at 15-7 overall, and 5-2 within the conference.
As for Sunday’s five-set match, the Wildcats experienced as many ups and downs as one could imagine. The first set was tight the whole way through until UNH pulled away at the end of the set. When UNH led 18-17, a few errors by UAlbany and an emphatic kill from sophomore middle blocker Abby Sullivan gave the ‘Cats a 5-1 run that was good enough to close out the set 25-20.
The Wildcats were rolling at the start of the second set, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after an ace from reigning America East Rookie of the Week, first-year setter Wren Macaulay. The serving dominance continued as the set went on, with aces from senior libero Emily Tanski and junior setter Emma Patlovich.
UNH pushed the lead to 24-19, which on most nights is enough to close out a set without worry. However, momentum shifted after an odd series of events.
In the midst of a play that was eventually called a replay, UAlbany’s sophomore defensive specialist Anna Chalupa took an elbow to the nose. She came off the court, leaving a trail of blood from her nose. The UAlbany trainer tended to her.
This is when the vibe of the game started to get weird. When there is blood on the court, it is the job of the team’s trainers to clean it up and let the game continue. UAlbany’s trainer was preoccupied with the injured player, which meant that it was up to the UNH trainer to clean up the mess. Standard practice. Yet, the UNH trainer stood there for approximately ten minutes while the referees and UAlbany coaches deliberated about how to get the game started.
At the ten-minute point, an UAlbany player called over to the UNH bench asking for the trainer to help out. To that, a UNH player yelled at the Great Dane’s bench proclaiming that they have their own trainer and shouldn’t be asking for help. There’s being competitive, then there’s being tasteless. The UNH coaches acknowledged that and spoke to the player who hounded the opposition.
When play continued, everything fell apart for the Wildcats. On consecutive plays the ‘Cats hit out of bounds, got blocked, missed another hit, gave up an ace then let up two kills to give UAlbany the second set, 26-24.
The Great Danes held the momentum as the Wildcats were making mistake after mistake early on in the set, although the ‘Cats were able to get it going 20 points into the set.
UNH head coach Chris Feliciano spoke about how he motivated his team out of the momentary lull. “They earned the right to be up 2-1 in this match,” said Feliciano. “They were frustrated with themselves, and it takes a really mature athlete to be able to pull yourself out of a hole like that. A lot of teams would lose the match after losing a lead like that, especially with that type of delay.”
When leading 20-19, senior defensive specialist Jenny Weston came in to serve and extended the lead to 23-19 after recording a dig and an ace during the run. UNH won the third set 25-21.
The fourth set was close the whole way through, until UAlbany went on a run after the game was tied at 17. The Great Danes took the second set 25-23.
Senior night energy came into full effect when the decisive fifth set began, as UNH showed no remorse winning the set 15-8 and winning the match overall.