by Tyler Roaix
After a season of breaking records and comeback wins, the Central Connecticut came up just short in the NEC finals. The Blue Devils fell to LIU Brooklyn in five sets, giving the Blackbirds their 11th NEC Conference title.
The loss came after a hard fought win over Bryant in the semifinals.
“This is definitely a tough pill to swallow, but it has been such a wonderful season,” head coach Linda Sagnelli said after the match.
The talented youth shined for Central. Sophomore Madelyn Kaprelyan, who lead the team with 290 kills this season, added 18 more. Fellow sophomore Morgan Woycik finished with 11 kills and led the team with a .310 kill percentage.
Freshman Emma Henderson had 16 kills to cap off a strong rookie year. Henderson became a focal point of the offense midway through the year and did not disappoint.
Samantha McCreath came in with high expectations for her freshman campaign. She added nine kills against LIU, bringing her season total to 216. She finishes fourth on the team in kills for the year, despite missing five matches with an ankle injury.
The biggest impact in the game was the Blackbirds’ defense. Central hit a modest .173 on 208 attempts, but LIU was able to cover all corners of the court, forcing several long points.
“That is a really good team over there (LIU). They were just a tad quicker than us and they played phenomenal defense,” Sagnelli said after the match.
Viktoria Fink was a defensive focus for the Blue Devils. Before the start of the tournament was awarded as the NEC Player of the Year and finished fourth in the conference with 3.47 kills per set.
Fink ended up with 15 kills against Central. But it was the performance of two other Blackbirds that made the biggest impact.
“We wanted to slow Fink, and I think we did that. But number 11 (Julia Azevedo) and 16 (Filippa Hansson) were big for them.”
Azevedo finished with 14 kills, while Hansson led all players with 19. Hansson also had 4.5 blocks and was tough for Central to contain all match long.
All year long, Sagnelli has said the motto for this season was “Grit.” This match was no different. Despite being behind nearly the entire match, the Blue Devils fought the whole way, giving one of its best performances of the year.
“We started off kind off slow but we showed a lot of fight like we always do. It was a really gritty performance and I’m really proud even though we lost.”
Sagnelli, who finishes her 18th season at Central with 294 career wins, admitted after the match that LIU was simply too quick for the CCSU offense to breakthrough.
With the loss, the careers of seniors Lindsey Massicotte and Maddie Smith come to a close.
Massicotte finishes 10th on CCSU’s all-time list for career digs with 958. Her 534 digs in 2017 are the second-most in a single season for any Blue Devil. Massicotte had 46 digs Nov. 10 against Saint Francis, which set a new NCAA record for most in a single match since the sport was moved to a 25-point set in 2008.
Smith had a stellar senior year to close out her career as a Blue Devil. Here 161 total blocks this year are second-most in a single season. Her 14 blocks against Sacred Heart on Nov. 3 are tied for the most in a single match for Central.
“The young kids have learned so much from them,” Sagnelli said of the two seniors. “It hasn’t only been about being good players, but also about being good teammates and good people, especially getting through tough times. They have been phenomenal representatives of the team and of the school.”
Despite coming up short, Smith shared how she still enjoyed her senior season.
“Honestly, I couldn’t have asked or a better way to finish. Obviously, I wish we won. But LIU played great. This year has been so much fun. So I have no regrets.”
Despite the loss, the Blue Devils have a bright future ahead of them. They had a talented freshman class, led by Samantha McCreath, Emma Henderson and Eline van Heijningen.
While it may not have resulted in the outcome they were hoping for, this has still been one of the best years for the team in a very long time. With a plethora of youthful talent and a great coaching staff, look for the Central volleyball team to be right back in the NEC title match next year.