by Sean Begin
The Central Connecticut volleyball team lost more than just two games over the weekend.
Junior Heather Trueman and sophomore Cassidy Stankowski both fell awkwardly during Saturday’s five-set loss to Robert Morris University. Neither has been officially diagnosed but both went down with left knee injuries that may sideline them for weeks if not the remainder of the season.
“It’s definitely a blow to the team,” said head coach Linda Sagnelli. “You never want to see anyone go down. In all my years, I’ve never had two players go down in a match. It’s rare to even have one player go down with a bad injury, it doesn’t happen that often.”
With Central up 8-7 in the first set against RMU, Trueman went up for an attack, twisting her knee on her landing. She stood under her own power but had to be helped from the court. And then in the fourth set, with Central coming back and the score tied 5-5, Stankowski went down in nearly the same manner.
“They’re going to go through all the medical stuff that they need to go through,” said Sagnelli. “They have to take the appropriate steps and get evaluated by [the team doctor] and get the diagnostic testing done.”
Central lost that first set against Robert Morris 27-25. With RMU (5-14, 4-0 NEC) sitting on game point, 24-20, Central rattled off four straight scores to tie it before the Colonials managed to finish the set off. RMU took the second set 25-16, putting the Blue Devils (5-10, 1-2 NEC) down 2-0.
“When [Heather went down and] we wound up losing a heartbreaker in that set by two points, that next set was tough to get through,” said Sagnelli. “We had to just say ‘Hey, look, we have to refocus.’ I brought Heather into the timeout and I said ‘Heather, what do you want,’ and she said ‘I want this team to win.’ I think that really helped.”
Central managed to climb back into it with wins of 25-17 and 25-23 in the third and fourth sets, forcing a decisive fifth. In that set, RMU quickly went up 7-2, holding off the Blue Devils for a 15-9 victory.
“We showed a lot of great fight and were able to take Robert Morris to five [sets] just on guts and hard work,” said Sagnelli.
With a game against Saint Francis (Pa.) the very next day, Central didn’t have much time to readjust their game plan with Trueman and Stankowski out. The Red Flash (7-11, 3-1 NEC) took that Sunday match 3-1, with Central winning only the second set.
“We had too many unforced errors, we gave way too many points away,” said Sagnelli of Sunday’s loss. “In one of the sets I think it was about 15 points we gave away on errors to them, where they didn’t have to do anything. So that loss a real frustrating kind of loss.”
Both Trueman and Stankowski have multiple roles on the team. Both serve as two of three primary passers in the back court, along with being top attackers at the net. Trueman leads the team with 178 kills this season.
Stankowski, who had just started seeing full game time after healing a previous knee injury, was one of the team’s leading scorers last season and had already fallen into that role in the few games she played after returning.
“We lost our two primary passers and we lost our two top scorers offensively,” said Sagnelli. “That’s a big void to fill. And we’re going to find a way to fill it. One way is to let Makenna [Lommori] do some hitting.”
Lommori, the team’s primary setter, saw a chance to hit earlier in the season, when Sagnelli installed and tested a new 6-2 offensive system, using junior Ashley Lenington as a secondary setter. Sagnelli had switched back to the familiar 5-1 heading into the Blue Devil Invitational, to take advantage of the team’s strength.
Now with Trueman and Stankowski out, Sagnelli is forced to go back to the 6-2 to free up Lommori to do some hitting.
“Makenna’s got to get into a hitting role a little more and work on controlling the ball a little bit and keeping it in bounds,” said Sagnelli. “She’s so strong, when she does get a hold of that ball she can overpower people. And she’s just got to refine that a little bit so that she puts a little more pressure on their defense.”
The good news for the Blue Devils is they are already familiar with the 6-2 offense they’ll run going forward. With such a quick turnaround between games, they weren’t afforded the time to shake off some of the rust. That’ll come this week in practice.
“We have the week of practice now to work on it,” said Sagnelli. “Even though we did go through some stuff on our pass and serve it’s just not enough time to adjust. So we do have the week to work out some kinks and put our players in the best position that they can be in to succeed.”
The loss of Trueman and Stankowski shakes up how Central will play going forward, but they still have potential weapons on the team. Nicole Dean has greatly improved her attack in her sophomore year and freshman Nicole Celarek has been given a big role since arriving in New Britain.
The 6-2 allows for both Dean and Celarek to find bigger offensive roles. It also means freshman Maddie Smith will see more playing time in the front court as a blocker when Lommori is in the back court coming forward to attack, something she will now have to do.
“We’re down two arms and we need somebody else who can put pressure on the other team and it looks going forward that Makenna can most certainly do that.”