by Tyler Roaix
The Central Connecticut State University volleyball team went into this past weekend looking for early control in the Northeastern Conference standings. The Blue Devils were able to grind out two tough victories against conference opponents to improve their record to 3-2 in NEC play.
The Blue Devils opened up the weekend with a wild five-set win Friday night against Sacred Heart University.
Before the match even began, there was excitement in the air, since it was the first time these two teams have played since the Pioneers knocked CCSU out of the NEC Tournament last November.
“This one is going to be a lot of fun,” head coach Linda Sagnelli said before the match.
Central won the first two sets easily, playing their best volleyball of the season. They tallied 11 total team blocks while committing just five attack errors in the first two frames. Comparing that to the other side, Sacred Heart failed to have any blocks in their first two sets, while committing 23 errors.
But Central lost its focus in the third and fourth sets, and Sacred Heart took advantage. When Central jumped out to a 19-16 lead in the third set and looked to close it out, Sacred Heart punched right back, rattling off nine of the final 12 points to take the set.
The fourth set was tightly contested, with neither team ever leading by more than three points. At one time, the Blue Devils actually led 25-24 and were at match point, but Sacred Heart closed the set winning three straight.
“We are such a young team, and when things are going right for us, we really get in rhythm. But when things don’t, they start to spiral,” Sagnelli admitted of her team’s struggles. “We have to get better at closing out and finishing strong, moving forward.”
The Pioneers tied the match up at two sets all as Central posted their two lowest kill percentages of the match, while also committing 14 errors combined through the two lost-sets.
Central ended up with 23 total team blocks, shattering their previous season-high of 13. Not only is it their highest total of the season, but it also breaks a CCSU record for most team blocks in a single match. The previous record was 21, a feat Central reached four times in their 31-year history.
Senior Maddie Smith had 13 blocks herself, good for second all-time for a Blue Devil in a single match.
“I don’t know what it is but we block like crazy in this gym,” Sagnelli said. In 2016, the Blue Devils racked up 19 blocks in another five-set thriller in the Pioneers’ gym. In total, Central had 48 blocks in three meetings between the two teams last year.
While the Blue Devils had contributions from several players, but Sagnelli was especially impressed by sophomore Madelyn Kaprelyn. She tied with junior Raquel Quirarte for a team-high 11 kills. Sagnelli highlighted how Kaprelyn came through in the deciding fifth set, when she blocked four Pioneer attacks.
Despite the hard-fought victory, Central had to travel to New Jersey to take on Fairleigh Dickinson the next day. After dropping the first set, CCSU swept the next three to secure their second victory in a row.
The loss for Fairleigh continues their rough 2017 campaign. They’ve lost 11 in a row and have a 3-16 record overall, worst in the Northeastern Conference.
After a strong start by Fairleigh, Central bounced back with a tight win in the second set. The teams battled back and forth to a 14-14 tie. But the Blue Devils took a lead they would maintain and held on for a 25-20 set win.
Central struggled well into the third set, falling down by as much as 18-12 at one point. But after a key timeout by Sagnelli, Central won nine of the next 10 points, including a run of six straight, to climb back into it. They also won the last three points of the set to take a 2-1 lead in the match.
It was a battle throughout the fourth set, as the score was tied 13 separate times. But Central took the lead, 16-15, and never trailed again.
Kaprelyn continued her strong weekend, leading the Blue Devils with 14 kills. Freshman Emma Henderson followed suit with 13, a new high in her young career. Sophomore Morgan Woycik added 13 kills as well to lead the CCSU offense.
Senior Lindsey Massicotte led the CCSU defense with a match-high 28 digs, while sophomore Erin McDermott had 18 and freshman Samantha McCreath had 16.
The weekend performance moves the Blue Devils to 10-6 overall, and 3-2 in NEC play. Central is now tied with Robert Morris and Saint Francis University for third place in the conference.
Looking ahead, Central returns home as they continue NEC play this weekend. The Blue Devils face off with Saint Francis Friday, Oct. 13 at 7 p.m. in Detrick Gym.