by Sean Begin
By no means was it a perfect weekend of play for the Central Connecticut women’s volleyball team. But it wasn’t one to throw away either.
“This weekend really showed us the character of the team that even when we’re not quite on top of our game we’re not willing to give up,” said head coach Linda Sagnelli. “I was really happy with the fight the team showed and I think we did a lot of things really well.”
The team hosted its annual Blue Devil Invitational on Friday and Saturday – featuring the University of Hartford, the New Jersey Institute of Technology and Providence College – its first home games of the season, winning two of three.
The Blue Devils opened the weekend with an afternoon tilt against Hartford on Friday. Central (4-8) spent the game exchanging sets with the Hawks (9-6). Central took the first, third and fifth sets dropping the second and fourth to Hartford.
Central was led that game by sophomore Heather Trueman who had 14 kills and 16 digs. Senior Rachel Dunlap reached double digit blocks with 10 while junior Makenna Lommori put up 47 assists. Four Blue Devils posted double digit digs in the match.
Central opened play on Saturday with a late morning game against Providence College. Central found itself in the hole down two sets to nothing after falling 25-23 in the first set and 27-25 in a highly contested second set. But the Blue Devils managed to come back, winning the third set 25-19 and the fourth 25-18, forcing a decisive fifth set.
Providence (4-9) got out early, though, and finished Central off 15-8.
“It wasn’t easy for Providence to beat us,” said Sagnelli of the team’s only loss over the weekend. “I thought Providence played hard. But we certainly didn’t give up.”
Central was led in the loss by freshman Nicole Celarek, who had 18 kills, a single game career high. Trueman and Dunlap also broke double digit kills with 16 and 13, respectively. Lommori posted assists on 49 of Central’s 56 successful attacks. Central had several players post high dig totals, led by sophomores Cassidy Stankowski (12) and Rachel Fish (11) as well as senior Brittany Schumacher (9) and Lommori (8).
Central won its third match of the tournament against NJIT (4-11) in convincing fashion, sweeping the Highlanders by scores of 25-10, 25-12 and 25-9. Trueman led the way again with 14 kills.
Central, Hartford and Providence all finished the weekend 2-1 while NJIT went winless.
“All in all, I think the last weekend of our tournament play went well and now we’re looking forward to opening it up against Bryant,” said Sagnelli.
For their play during the tournament, Dunlap and Celarek both received NEC honors. Dunlap was named Defensive Player of the Week as well as MVP of the invitational. She posted 23 blocks over three matches, a 1.77 block per set mark. She also tallied 28 kills with a .426 hitting percentage. Celarek was named Rookie of the Week for her 28 kills, 11 digs, six blocks and five aces over the weekend.
Despite the fairly solid play, Sagnelli knows her team still has room for improvement with the first game of Northeast Conference action coming this weekend.
“I think our handling of the ball needs to improve,” she said. “When the first pass is not good we really have to be able to take care of the ball and not lose a point.”
She added: “One of the focuses that we’ll have this week in practice is our out of system play and how we handle the ball and then it’s going to be our offense and how we’re running [it]. Really we need to swing for a point to end a play. So I just want to work on it this week in practice and I’m sure the outcome will be great.”
After installing a new 6-2 offense with rotating setters in the preseason, Sagnelli has returned to the 5-1 style of offense she ran previously.
“That’s our strongest offense is when we’re in the 5-1,” said Sagnelli. “And Ashley Lenington did great in the 6-2 but the 5-1 just restores a little balance to the court.”
Lenington, a junior, had been working as the second setter in the 6-2 behind Lommori. She won’t see as much work as in the 6-2 but has other skills that Sagnelli can take advantage of.
“We can use Ashley in other ways; she has one of the toughest serves on the team. She is valuable coming in and putting some pressure on the other team,” said Sagnelli.
Sagnelli used the 6-2 in the Blue Devils first six games of the season against some of the tougher opponents on the schedule, losing all six games. After returning to the older style, the team has gone 4-2 since.
“It’s easier for our hitters to work off of one setter,” said Sagnelli. “Now that we’ve settled into the 5-1 I think everybody will relax and be able to play their best offensively.”
The team returns to the court when it opens Northeast Conference action against Bryant this Saturday afternoon at 4 p.m. on Family Day.