By ANDREW YOURELL
UMass Lowell found out just how dangerous the Wildcats can be from the service line on Friday night.
UNH racked up 10 aces to sweep the River Hawks in three sets, by scores of 25-15, 25-10, 25-12. UNH is now 9-1 in America East conference play and 17-8 overall, with two games remaining before the America East Championships.
“We really try to focus on knocking [opponents] off balance and trying to get the other team out of system as best we can,” setter Keelin Severtson said.
Severtson led the ‘Cats with four aces, and the Wildcats are currently the No. 13 team in the NCAA in aces per set, with a 1.72 mark. Serves have been one of the team’s strengths all year and are something that UNH head coach Jill Hirschinger harps on in practice.
Other teams focus on getting the ball over the net, but for the Wildcats that isn’t enough. UNH’s strategy this season has been to target opposing players using the serve, picking those players that Hirschinger and her staff feel are the weakest at returning the serve.
So far, the results have been tough to argue. In addition to the Wildcats’ No. 13 ranking as a team, Severtson accounts for .53 aces per set. That mark puts the junior in the top-5 in the NCAA in aces per set, and her overall mark of 47 has her in the top-10 in the country as well.
In the second set of Friday night’s match, UNH began with the serve. The team put the ball in the hands of its best server, and Severtson didn’t disappoint, tallying three of her four aces en route to an 8-0 run.
“We were really smart about being aggressive and knowing when to make our serves,” Severtson said. “Just going at the perimeters to make it a little bit tougher for [the River Hawks].”
UMass Lowell quickly called a timeout to try and regroup, but Severtson’s next serve was another point for UNH. The River Hawks finally managed to win a volley, making it 9-1 and regaining the serve for UMass Lowell.
Unfortunately for the River Hawks, Severtson’s game wasn’t limited to just the service line. Severtson also recorded 36 assists on the night, one of which came on UMass Lowell’s first serve of the second set.
The result was a huge hit from senior Maggie Kenney, which found the court to give UNH a 10-1 lead. The River Hawks never got back into the set, dropping the second set with a -.095 hitting percentage.
The third set began much the same way the second did—Severtson’s serves propelled UNH to another lead, 4-0 this time, en route to the match win.
Nine different Wildcats recorded a kill on Friday night. Senior outside hitter Abby Brinkman led the way with 10 kills, followed by classmates Cassidy Croci (8) and Tori Forrest (7). More impressive than the number of kills was the Wildcats’ hitting percentage.
“Wow,” Brinkman said as she read the stat sheet for the first time. “We hit amazing.”
The Wildcats recorded a .433 hitting percentage, playing some of their cleanest volleyball of the season.
“We played extremely well today. Everybody. It started with our serving—I think that’s the most aces we’ve had all year—to our hitting efficiency,” Hirschinger said. The head coach called last week’s loss to Albany a wake up call for the team, and said she expects it to motivate her team for the rest of the season.
The Wildcats have two more matches to go before the America East playoffs. On Friday night, UNH travels to Stony Brook to take on the Seawolves. After that is a trip to Maryland to battle the UMBC Retrievers.
“We’re playing on their home turf,” Hirschinger said. “We’re going into hostile territory…we just need to focus and play our game.”