DURHAM, N.H. – The University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (9-7, 2-1) lost a heartbreaker to the reigning America East Champion UMBC Retrievers (8-10, 3-0) 1-3 on Friday (18-25, 25-19, 19-25, 22-25). However, the Wildcats did what they have done all year and responded Sunday with a clean sweep of the NJIT (1-14, 0-2) Highlanders (25-12, 25-13, 25-19).
The Wildcats were given a picture-perfect opportunity to avoid consecutive losses. NJIT rolled into Durham having lost 13 matches in a row including five on the road. The ‘Cats have only lost consecutive matches twice in 16 games this season.
The first set between the Wildcats and Retrievers was a fast-paced matchup. UMBC wore down UNH throughout the set with a strong defensive performance. The ‘Cats simply could not come up with a much-needed kill down the stretch.
The Wildcats shot themselves in the foot with a missed serve and two errors late. UMBC outkilled the ‘Cats by three as UNH finished the match with just a .061 kill percentage. The second set was a different story.
At the beginning of the match it looked as though it was not going to be Kate Bilyeu’s day. Bilyeu, a senior outside hitter and tri-captain, was getting the volume but struggling to finish her kills.
Junior Wren Macaulay did not shy away from continuing to send the ball her way. She found her rhythm later in the match and played a huge role in both games over the weekend.
In a 13-13 tie in set two, UNH head coach Christopher Feliciano made a motion to Macaulay. It was clear he found something he liked. With each set, Feliciano pointed to his clipboard targeting the outside hitter for UMBC in the back row. She was forced to make the first pass to her setter which slowed down their tempo. The ‘Cats went on a 4-0 run as the Retrievers were forced to make a substitution. That opened up a 17-13 lead for UNH and they didn’t look back.
Bilyeu’s strong second half of set two carried into the third set with a terrific dig to put UNH up 3-2 early. Both teams looked dominant making dig after dig. However, the wheels started to fall off towards the end of the set. UMBC managed to open up a 24-17 lead late. They finished with a .325 kill percentage in the third set which was a monumental improvement to their .119 in the second. This match was a perfect example of what volleyball is. A game of runs and momentum.
“I thought we did a good job of matching UMBC’s intensity,” said Bilyeu. “I think that a lot of what we have been working on in practice is finally starting to translate into points on the court and that couldn’t be happening at a better time.”
Bilyeu had another dominant start to the fourth set, but a 6-1 run put UMBC on top 7-4 before a Feliciano timeout. The ‘Cats fought hard to erase a four-point deficit to tie the score at 19. However, a quick run put UNH on the brink 24-21. The Retrievers closed out the game right there which is what good teams do. The reigning America East Champs improved to 7-10 on the season and 2-0 in conference games.
The Wildcats responded with what was perhaps their most dominant victory of the season against NJIT. UNH had a major edge in kills (39-25), aces (12-0), blocks (7-4), assists (37-23) and digs (31-26). They finished the match with an incredible .325 kill percentage where as NJIT’s was only .104. Bilyeu tied for the team lead in kills with seven and put up eight services aces. She also went 18-for-18 on serve receive. She came up huge all weekend for the Wildcats.
UNH will travel to New York to take on Stony Brook (7-1, 1-2) Friday at 6 p.m. before heading to Baltimore for a rematch with UMBC on Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics