Playing on the road has not been kind to senior outside hitter Kate Bilyeu and the rest of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Wildcats (9-9, 2-3) the last few years. That trend continued last weekend against Stony Brook and UMBC.
With the two in-conference losses, UNH dropped to 1-4 on the road this season. The team has not had a winning record on the road since 2018 and even in that season, they were just 6-5 away from Durham.
UNH began their two game in-conference road trip last Friday at Stony Brook (8-10, 2-2). It came down to the wire, but the Wildcats ultimately fell to the Seawolves in five sets (21-25, 16-25, 25-17, 25-19, 11-15).
“We started off pretty slow. We were down 0-2 going into the third set. That was us not being prepared enough for them coming out strong,” said Bilyeu. “We did a good job of fighting back in the next two sets but in the fifth set we didn’t play like ourselves.”
Bilyeu led the team with 11 kills while setter junior Wren Macaulay notched 39 assists. Sophomore libero Mia Pagliarini played a huge role defensively once again posting 20 digs in the defeat.
Sunday afternoon, the Wildcats traveled to Baltimore in search of revenge against the reigning America East Conference Champion UMBC Retrievers (10-10, 5-0). UNH lost in four sets in their previous matchup on Oct. 1 in Durham.
The ‘Cats were swept in consecutive sets (11-25, 13-25, 19-25) in what was arguably their worst match of the season.
“We really underestimated them and didn’t show up. I think that really reflected in the scores,” Bilyeu said. “[Head coach Christopher Feliciano] did a really good job of making us talk it out, ensuring that it doesn’t happen again.”
These losses marked the first time that the Wildcats have dropped three out of four games this season.
“We’re really focused on playing like ourselves. We’ve seen little snippets of that throughout the season and right now we’re trying to string that together,” Bilyeu explained. “When we play our game, we’re in control of the match, not having to come from behind, and avoiding long runs.”
Bilyeu has owned the month of October so far. In four matches, she’s tallied 34 kills and has managed to be a huge part of the Wildcats’ offense.
In a matchup against NJIT earlier this month, she notched a season-high eight service aces in just three sets. Nobody had put up more than four in a match prior to that all season.
“I feel really confident right now,” explained Bilyeu. “I think that we have a great team of starters that help me out in all situations and even in other situations where I’m a little less confident, I know they have my back. I know I can go out, play as hard as I can, and they’ll pick me up if I happen to fall.”
Despite the recent struggles within conference play, Bilyeu still believes the team has the chance to make a run for the conference title.
“It would mean everything to me but right now it’s one game at a time. We have to take care of who we face and take care of the easy stuff but winning the conference would mean everything. I love this team and I know that UNH has had a big past of winning. I think it would be great to bring that back to Durham,” she said.
Bilyeu continued, “right now, we need to come into the games not only prepared for what they’re going to do to us but what we need to do to them. I feel sometimes we come in and we’re so preoccupied with the idea of needing to win this game rather than the details of serving and passing. Hopefully then we’ll be able to focus on the bigger picture.”
The Wildcats return home Friday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. in another tough in-conference matchup against UAlbany (7-11, 3-1).
Photo courtesy of UNH Athletics