Category Archives: Volleyball

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Volleyball Opens Home Play with Pair of Wins

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.

From Junior College to Central: Dunlap Earns Captain in Senior Year

by Sean Begin

When women’s volleyball head coach Linda Sagnelli went to San Antonio, Texas for the NCAA Division I Final Four in 2011 she left having met the player who would become a centerpiece to a highly successful Northeast Conference team.

Walking through the Alamodome on Sunday during a talent showcase the day after the final match, Sagnelli and her assistant coach Greg Shell were looking for a middle blocker to add to the team.

“Greg and I went and I was looking for a middle and sure enough their was Rachel in a back court in the convention center,” said Sagnelli. “And I was just very impressed with her athleticism and her discipline and her focus. She was very supportive of the other players on the court, none of whom she knew.”

Rachel is Rachel Dunlap, a senior in her third season with the team who over the summer was named captain alongside junior Makenna Lommori. The title was an acknowledgment from both the coaches and the players on the team of the work and effort Dunlap has put in during her time in New Britain.

A native of Sonora, Calif., Dunlap played high school volleyball for Summerville High School in Tuolomne, Calif. From there she made her way to Texas where she played for Lee College her freshman year.

“I had a few opportunities to go to Division I straight out of high school but they just didn’t feel right,” said Dunlap. “So I went the junior college route. I took that opportunity and obviously I’m thankful because it led me here. I don’t think I would be here if wasn’t for that first step.”

After leaving Lee for Central, Dunlap became an immediate piece in the Blue Devil front court, starting 28 of the 29 matches she played, ranking second in hitting percentage and fourth in kills while leading the team in blocks with 113.

Last season, Dunlap made another jump, increasing her block total by 50 to set a CCSU single season record with 163 total blocks, including 14 in one game, also a program record.

Despite the year at Lee, Dunlap attributes her growth and success as a player to the coaches at Central.

“Who I am today and how I became a better player my sophomore year is 100 percent credit to Central Connecticut,” said Dunlap.

“She’s improved every single year she’s been with us,” said Sagnelli. “I thought, like I think with all players, that she had a lot to work on. But she absolutely met the challenge of learning new hits, working on her footwork, working on her strength.”

Over her two years at Central, Dunlap has added several different hits and attacks to her offense, working closely with Lommori, the team’s setter, to get the timing on their attack down. Defensively, Sagnelli has worked with her to improve her eye sequencing, her ability to see everything happening on the other side of the net and react.

“She has to see the pass and then read the setter and guess what the setter is going to do, and look at the hitter. And then when the ball is released she has to travel the net to get there and try and be involved in a block,” said Sagnelli. “There’s a lot going on. [Middle blocker is] the position I played in college and I know what it takes. She certainly can do it at a high level.”

Even though Dunlap has made improvements defensively, she was already a solid defensive player coming in, and so was able to focus more time on honing her offensive attack.

“We took her where she came in with her blocking and just helped her progress with it and then we really had her focusing on offense so that she could become more of a threat,” said Sagnelli.

Dunlap’s work ethic and effort is part of what earned her the title of captain coming into her final season as a Blue Devil. The other is her leadership ability on and off the court.

“She leads by example,” said Sagnelli. “Whether she’s on the court or doing a pool work out or down with strength and conditioning, she’s just getting after it. I think she’s a very good role model for the younger players on the team.”

“I really feel like that’s a good attribute of mine is my leadership on the court,” Dunlap said. “I’m very thankful [to be named captain]. I was honored and I love having Makenna by my side.”

“It’s easy to be captain with your best friend,” she added. “We get each other. We always have got each other. We have great chemistry together. She’s probably the only person on the court who can look me in the eye and tell me ‘Get out of your head or else.’”

Dunlap had to do just that heading into the season. Focused heavily on the fact that she had only one season of college athletics left, Dunlap “was too much in my own head.” But a change of mindset has made her ready for her final season.

“I’m just focused on having fun this year. I found out if I just let myself play, I’ve been way better. And I’m trying to have the best season that I can without putting too much pressure on myself. I have a limited time and I’m very conscious of that.”

“She’s such a dynamic athlete that we were so happy when she chose to come to Central because we could see in her so much potential and now she’s starting to realize that,” said Sagnelli. “It’s really been fun watching her mature as an athlete and as a person. She has a really bright future.”

For Central Volleyball, New Players, New System, Same Goal

by Sean Begin

In April of this year, Central Connecticut volleyball announced the signing of four new players to National Letters of Intent, to replace departing seniors Amalia Ashley and Veronika Ban and freshman Katie Wirth.

Lindsey Massicotte and Emma Schissel, both from Connecticut, join as defensive specialists with Nicole Celarek (from Illinois) and Maddie Smith (from California) looking to fill an already strong front court.

“We wanted to integrate the freshmen into our system rather quickly,” said head coach Linda Sagnelli. “And with so many players returning it was really easy to do.”

This preseason saw Sagnelli and assistant coach Greg Shell implement a different playing system that takes advantage of their new additions as well as the growing skills of returning players.

Last season, the team ran a 5-1 system: five hitters on the court with one setter controlling the floor; then-sophomore and captain Makenna Lommori served as the team’s only setter.

This year they moved to a 6-2: six hitters on the court with rotating setters running the offense. The setter plays from the back court, coming forward to the net when setting, allowing for three hitters to play up front.

Junior Ashley Lenington will move into the second setter role and play opposite of Lommori, who will now have time to focus on hitting for three rotations, a strength of her’s Sagnelli had been unable to take advantage of previously.

“Makenna is a very strong hitter,” said Sagnelli, “but we’ve never had the luxury to have her hit.”

Central will return several strong defensive players to their front court, including senior and fellow captain Rachel Dunlap, sophomore Brooke Schwab and junior Heather Trueman, who had a breakout season last year as one of the team’s best outside hitters.

In addition, senior Brittany Schumacher and sophomore Rachel Fish return as defensive specialists and liberos, providing solid defense in the back court.

The new system, combined with the team’s depth, allows for Sagnelli and Shell to pick and choose when to insert a player into a match, and to try and take advantage of an opposing team’s weakness.

As with all new things, though, there does come a learning curve.

“With the new system it takes time. I don’t think we can expect the kids to run it at 100 percent,” said Sagnelli. “Sometimes in competition things happen and [you can go] ‘Oh yeah so this is what we do when that happens.’”

The team has had time to get together before the season began, however. The freshmen arrived in late June for summer classes alongside the returning players, offering the chance to build a relationship before hitting the court.

“I think they’ve settled in really nicely. We’re asking them to do a lot of different things,” said Sagnelli of the freshmen class.

“A lot of times they come in and we change things that they’re doing and sometimes they go through a learning curve and I think that’s been like that for them this year. But they respond very quickly, they implement changes very quickly. And they have just bought right in to what we do.”

Central opened the season at the UConn Invitational, facing off against teams at or near not just Central’s RPI but league rival LIU-Brooklyn. (RPI is a ranking that takes into account a team’s win-loss record as well as the strength of the schedule they play.)

The Blue Devils played Indiana, New Hampshire and UConn in that tournament, losing to all three but pushing both UNH and UConn to five sets, forcing the fifth set against UConn after being down 2-0.

“We were not upset with our play over the weekend at UConn,” said Sagnelli, saying these early games are to be used as a learning period before the Northeast Conference season gets under way, especially with the new system in place and with the freshmen still overcoming their own learning curve.

“Our goal is to win the conference and LIU has been our obstacle,” she added.

LUI-Brooklyn has defeated Central the past two years in the NEC championship game and looks poised to repeat for a third straight year, unanimously picked by the NEC coaches to win it all. Central was picked second.

“We wanted to play teams that were comparable to or better than Long Island early so we can start to gauge things on what we need to work on,” said Sagnelli. “And most certainly the UConn’s, the Indiana’s, the Santa Clara’s, Harvard, they’re all going to be very tough teams, so we’re happy with what we’ve seen so far.”

Central played Santa Clara and Harvard, as well as Delaware, at the Harvard Invitational this past weekend, dropping all three games. They will head to Brown this weekend for a tournament before returning home next weekend for their own Blue Devil Invitational.

In addition to the new system, Central is awaiting the return of two players. Sophomores Cassidy Stankowski (who started for the team last year) and Nicole Dean are making their way back from injury and look ready to return to the team fully by the end of September, according to Sagnelli.

“The comfort level will keep going up and up and up as we play in [the new system] a little longer. We can see very good things,” said Sagnelli. “We just have to get that comfort level up there and I think it starts to run on all cylinders after that.”

The team also earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award for the eighth straight season, posting a team GPA of 3.3.

“I give all the credit to them because they’re the ones who are sitting in the classrooms, they’re getting the work done and being responsible. Everywhere we travel they’re bringing their work,” said Sagnelli. “They have downtime too but they’re very efficient in getting their work done. That’s why they’re so successful.”

Volleyball Adds Depth with 2018 Recruits

by Sean Begin

When Central Connecticut volleyball takes the court again in the fall, it’ll be without the presence of seniors Veronika Ban and Amalia Ashley. They will, however, feature four freshman recently signed by head Coach Linda Sagnelli, all of whom add depth to a team fresh off its second straight conference finals appearance.

“Our program has a high standard for athletic and academic success, and we are proud of the academic and athletic performance of  this incoming class,” said Sagnelli in a statement released through the athletic department.

Sagnelli adds two local athletes in Emma Schissel, of Colchester, and Lindsey Massicotte, of Meriden, as well as Maddie Smith, from Pleasanton, Calif., and Nicole Celarek, of Bensenville, Ill.

According to Sagnelli, of the three, Celarek is the most likely to see significant time in the starting lineup as an outside hitter, playing from the right side to complement current sophomore Heather Trueman.

“We were looking for a freshman to come in who would get playing time and start, be an impact freshman, kind of like all the freshman we just had,” said Sagnelli. “With that, it looks like Nicole is going to come in and really contribute right away.”

A four year member of her Fenton High School varsity volleyball squad, Celarek also plays for the Sports Performance Volleyball Club team, which Sagnelli calls one of the best club teams in the country. Celarek, at six-foot-two, will bring added height and size to the Blue Devil frontcourt.

“We really wanted to get a little more physical in the frontcourt, and she definitely brings that physicality to the game,” said Sagnelli. “Nicole comes in already possessing good strength. We know she’ll get stronger when she gets into college and matures a little bit.”

Schissel and Massicotte, both from Connecticut, will come in as defensive players, adding depth to the defensive specialist position, with Schissel also working with the setters and Massicotte with the liberos.

Schissel played for Bacon Academy during high school, and will slot in behind current sophomores Makenna Lommori and Ashley Lenington during her freshman season.

“She’s going to provide good depth,” said Sagnelli of Schissel. “I think she has some training to do. She’ll go with the setters and get the setter training. But she’ll also go with our backcourt crew when they’re going in for their reception reps and passing reps. So she’ll be doing both.”

Massicotte earned All-Conference honors while playing for her Maloney High School team each of the past three seasons. With Amalia Ashley graduating, Massicotte will add depth to the position currently filled by freshman Rachel Fish and junior Brittany Schumacher.

“We always like to have three [liberos] on the team because it really makes you strong in that backcourt position,” said Sagnelli. “Lindsey is going to come in and push for playing time right away.

Added Sagnelli: “I think she’s got a very solid base right now, fundamentally. She really needs to fine-tune some of the skills. But she’s going to jump in; her feet are going to hit the ground running.  She will most certainly provide great depth to the backcourt crew.”

Sagnelli has said previously that club volleyball competition in the northeast is comparably weaker than in other areas of the country, such as in Texas or on the West Coast. But Sagnelli calls the addition of two local athletes “incredibly important.”

“Having Connecticut athletes on the team really ties everything together,” said Sagnelli. “We would love to be able to take the top players in Connecticut every year. We’re very fortunate with Lindsey and Emma committing to us and deciding to come to Central.”

Sagnelli’s final recruit, Maddie Smith, adds another player to a pool of starters that hail from California and nearby West Coast states. Smith joins Lenington, Trueman and junior Rachel Dunlap, as well as departing senior Veronika Ban, as Blue Devil recruits from the Golden State.

Lommori, from Nevada, and freshman Brooke Schwab, from Oregon, round out the West Coast recruits Sagnelli has brought to New Britain the past few years.

Smith, like Schissel and Massicotte, will spend time behind established starters as she begins her freshman year. At five-foot-eleven, she will play the middle blocker position behind Dunlap and Schwab, honing her skills in her first collegiate season.

“She’s got a great vertical jump,” said Sagnelli. “She’s going to be playing behind Rachel and Brooke, but what two great role models to have. And she’s going to be working very hard. We’ll actually have four people working in the middle because Nicole Dean will be working in the middle a little bit. Maddie solidifies that position.”

In addition to Dunlap, Schwab and Smith, Celarek and current freshman Nicole Dean will see time at middle blocker, providing Sagnelli and assistant coach Greg Shell with strong depth at the position.

“We wanted to make sure with our outsides, with our middle, with our right sides, that we didn’t have any weaknesses,” said Sagnelli. “And we feel very strongly going into next season that we’re deep… and that only helps the team.”

Each of the recruits is seeing time at their positions on their club teams, providing valuable experience before arriving at Central in August. Both Massicotte and Smith were competing at a recent tournament in Philadelphia that Sagnelli and Shell were recruiting at.

All the recruits, with Celarek perhaps being the exception, will have time this coming season to continue their development as players. Sagnelli hopes they follow in the footsteps of Trueman, who emerged this past season as an All-Conference outside hitter after brief playing time her freshman year.

“She had that year to put strength on, technically fine-tune everything, get up to the speed of the college game. It helped her tremendously,” said Sagnelli of Trueman.

Sagnelli expects each recruit to have a shot at seeing playing time, with Celarek most certain of the four  to make it into the lineup.

“They come in with a good level of talent that if we need to, some of them  are going to be getting in there and fighting for a spot right away,” said Sagnelli.

That level of competition, though, should only serve to bring the best out of the players already on the team.

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Volleyball Falls In NEC Championship Match

by Sean Begin
Brooklyn, New York –
For the Central Connecticut volleyball team, a successful season ended with a difficult defeat at the hands of Long Island University-Brooklyn last Sunday in the Northeast Conference Championship game at Long Island.

The Blue Devils (21-9) fell in straight sets to the Blackbirds (23-7) by scores of 25-12, 25-19 and 25-14, who finished an unbeaten season in the NEC. It was Central’s third loss to LIU this season.

“We knew we were the underdog coming in here but we weren’t thinking that way,” said Coach Linda Sagnelli. “I told my athletes not to hang their heads because the work that they put in… nothing should take away everything that they’ve done this season.”
The loss ends what was otherwise a successful season for Central women’s volleyball. After opening the season losing five of the first seven games, the Blue Devils ran off a string of seven wins.
Following losses to LIU and Saint Francis Brooklyn, Central would go on another winning streak, this time of ten games, which was ended with the teams’ second loss of the season to Long Island.

“When you reflect back on the season that we had, we’ve done a lot of things right,” said Sagnelli. “They come in day in and day out and they’re ready to learn, they’re ready to give 100 percent effort all the time.”

The team was led in the match by senior Veronika Ban, who had nine kills and three service aces in the final game of her college career. Freshman Cassidy Stankowski added seven kills of her own to go along with seven digs, a team high. Sophomore Makenna Lommori assisted in 23 Blue Devil kills.

Central could not anything going offensively against the Blackbirds, who stifled the Blue Devil attack all game, blocking 10 shots as a team. The Blue Devils pushed Long Island in the second set with three straight aces on Ban’s serve but it proved to not be enough. Central held the lead only three times in the match.

“We got outplayed,” said Sagnelli following the loss. “We simply met a Long Island team today that was just playing a better version of volleyball. They executed better than we did today.”
Central came into the game feeling “phenomenal,” according to Sagnelli. A three set sweep of Sacred Heart University in the semi-final match seemed to boost the confidence of the team heading into Sunday’s championship match.

“I don’t want this [loss] to detract from what we did in the semi-final match,” said Sagnelli. “It’s always kind of dangerous when you’re playing a team you’ve beaten twice. I thought we executed and outplayed Sacred Heart.”
Despite the bitterness of the loss, the team is young, only fielding two upper classmen in the starting rotation for most of the season, and has much to take away from the championship loss.

“You have to remember today but you can’t let it consumer you,” Sagnelli said of her message to her team. “You’ve got to remember the good you’ve done. We just take this as a learning experience, as a day that can make us a little tougher as we go forward.”
Central seems poised to compete in the NEC for the next several years. They were ranked third in the NEC polls prior to this season in which many of the starters were freshman or sophomores and should see a similar ranking next season.

“Being in this environment is only going to add to the experience of a young team,” said Sagnelli. “Hopefully, we’ll have the chance next year to have another shot at claiming a conference championship.”

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Central Volleyball Splits Weekend Games

By Sean Begin
With a spot in the Northeast Conference tournament already secure, the only impact the weekend’s games meant for the volleyball team was seeding.
Wins over Long Island University-Brooklyn and Saint Francis-Brooklyn, coupled with an LIU loss to Bryant on Sunday, would secure the number one seed for Central in the NEC tournament.
Central (20-8, 11-3 NEC) finished the regular season by recording their 20th win of the season in a 3-0 sweep over Saint Francis-Brooklyn (7-25, 3-11 NEC) on Sunday.
“That was one of our goals, to get the win today. We wanted to have this as a 20 win season and they accomplished that goal which is awesome,” said Coach Linda Sagnelli.
But a 3-0 loss to Long Island (21-7, 14-0 NEC) on Saturday ended the Blue Devils’ chances at bringing the tournament home.
“I think we were in a fog,” said Sagnelli. “We got a little too amped up for that game and it drained them [the players] emotionally when the game actually came.”
The loss snapped Central’s 10-game winning streak and ended their perfect record at home.
Central’s offense struggled against the Blackbirds, recording just 27 kills as a team, led by sophomore Heather Trueman’s 11, hitting just .129 as a team. Sophomore Makenna Lommori assisted on all of Central’s kills
“We had a couple mistakes here and there but when you’re playing against a team that makes very few mistakes, you can’t make more than they make. And that’s what happened,” said Sagnelli.
The loss ensured that the NEC tournament will be held at LIU this weekend, with CCSU taking the second seed overall, and that Sunday’s game against Saint Francis-Brooklyn would have no postseason impact.
Central and SFBK spent the majority of the match on Sunday exchanging points, but the Blue Devils managed to find just enough offense to get the win.
“We had a hard time finding our rhythm early on and our passing was a little inconsistent,” said Sagnelli. “We found just enough rhythm to be able to do what we needed to do today.”
Trueman and freshman Cassidy Stankowski led Central’s offense against the Terriers. Trueman recorded 15 kills on 23 attacks with no errors, posting a huge .652 hitting percentage. Stankowski added 14 kills of her own.
Seven players recorded an assist in the match led by 33 from Lommori, who also posted five kills and three digs. Freshman Rachel Fish led the team with 11 digs.
Central now sets its sights on the NEC tournament this weekend. The Blue Devils will face Sacred Heart University in the semifinals on Saturday while LIU will play Robert Morris University in the other semifinal.
“We have to focus on whomever we’re playing,” said Sagnelli, adding “As coaches we prepare for both [the final and semifinal] but for the team we really prepare them more for the semifinal match because without winning that one there is no finals.”