by Tyler Roaix
The Central Connecticut volleyball team continued a strong 2017 campaign with a pair of victories over the Northeastern Conference. The weekend performance gives the Blue Devils a second consecutive trip to the NEC Championships.
Central opened the weekend with a tough 3-2 win over the Sacred Heart Pioneers. This win moves Central to 8-3 in the Northeastern Conference, and its seventh win in their last eight matches.
Much like the last time these two teams played on Oct. 6, CCSU jumped out to a 2-0 lead, but the Blue Devils failed to close out. Sacred Heart would battle back to even it at 2-2. But the Blue Devils took control in the fifth set, winning 15-10 to secure another victory.
Despite the struggles down the stretch, Central improved its record to 5-2 when the match goes to a deciding fifth set.
Head coach Linda Sagnelli talked about the team’s close call after the match.
“We have to learn how to close out, but we are getting there,” Sagnelli said. “We do have that experience in those five-set matches. So we have had that ‘been there, done that’ mentality and been able to fight through it.”
Sophomore Madelyn Kaprelyan had another strong offensive output for CCSU, having a team-high 15 kills. Fellow sophomore Erin McDermott had another double-double for Central, contributing 29 assists on offense and 12 digs defensively.
What may be even bigger than the match win was the return of outside-hitter Samantha McCreath. The freshman had missed the previous five matches due to an ankle injury, but her 140 kills made her a focal point on offense for the Blue Devils while she was healthy. She made a huge impact in her return, adding 10 kills to the offense. Sagnelli highlighted McCreath’s “grit” coming back the way she did.
The win kept Central tied for second in the Northeaster Conference standings. It also put them just one win away from clinching a postseason birth.
“The coaches certainly are paying attention to the standings as we go along,” Sagnelli admitted after the match. “I’m sure that players are as well, but the most important thing they needed to focus on was winning this match tonight, and we did that.”
The Blue Devils then celebrated Senior Day on Saturday by honoring Maddie Smith and Lindsey Massicotte before the match.
“Senior Day always has a lot of emotions,” Sagnelli shared. “It really tugs at your heart strings. But Maddie and Lindsey are such competitors that they were focused on the match.”
Both of the seniors played a key role in the match that followed, as the Blue Devils fought through struggles to a 3-0 sweep of Fairleigh Dickinson. Massicotte had a match-high 17 digs defensively and contributed six assists to the offense. Smith blocked three FDU attacks while also having five kills.
Despite winning all three sets, it was a match where Sagnelli admitted that her team “never really got in rhythm.”
Central’s worst stretch was in the middle of the third set, when they lost 10 of 12 points to the Knights. But Central would bounce back, winning nine of the final 10 points to secure the win.
McCreath capped off a strong comeback weekend with another nine kills to lead the team. Kaprelyan added eight, giving her a total of 230 on the year, the most among the Blue Devils.
“Fairleigh played really scrappy defense today, so kudos to them,” Sagnelli said. “We muddled our way through this one. At this point in the year, a win is a win and we are happy with that.”
Junior Raquel Quirarte did not play in the match. According to Sagnelli, the outside-hitter had “some aches and pains,” so the coach decided to give Quirarte a day of rest.
Massicotte spoke about the emotions of the day and reminiscing about her entire career at Central.
“It’s definitely good to go out with a win,” Massicotte said. “It was really exciting to be able to play in front of my family, since they don’t always get to see me here. It was great to look back and see how far I have come since my freshman year.”
With the win, CCSU has now won eight of their last nine matches. Their 9-3 NEC record puts them in a three-way tie for first place in the conference with LIU Brooklyn and Bryant. Central also has a .696 winning percentage overall, the best in the NEC.
The field for the NEC playoffs is officially set. LIU Brooklyn, Central, Bryant and Robert Morris have all clinched spots in the playoffs. All that remains is the seeding and which school will host the tournament.
“Our approach is still the same,” Sagnelli said after the match. “We want to win every match so we will still play our game next weekend.”
On Monday, the NEC announced that McCreath won the NEC Rookie of the Week. Smith was also awarded NEC Player of the Week and Defensive Player of the Week.
Central has just two more matches left in the regular season. They will travel to Pennsylvania to take on Saint Francis University on Friday and Robert Morris on Saturday. If they end up with the top seed in the conference, they will host the NEC playoffs, which begin Friday, Nov. 18.
“We are feeling good right now,” Massicotte said of the team’s mindset. “We had a couple tough losses to LIU and one to Bryant, but we are really confident right now and playing really well.”