By Chris McLaughlin
The Blue Devils’ 3-2 loss in a five set match to top seeded Sacred Heart in the NEC tournament marked the end of a season plagued by a slow start.
During the match, CCSU traded set victories until Sacred Heart closed it out in the fifth and final set.
“It was a great competitive match,” said Head Coach Linda Sagnelli. “Both teams played very well, and went at each other. There were a lot of exciting volleys but in the end the ball bounced their way a couple more times.”
The Blue Devils finished the season 11-18 overall, and entered the NEC Tournament for the eighth time. The team got off to a rough start, dropping eight of the first 10 decisions, but were able to pick up play around the middle of the season.
“The one thing I would change about this season would be our slow start,” said Sagnelli. “We didn’t get into a rhythm, and injuries came into play. We weren’t able to get consistent with all of our different lineups, but we were able to give our players more experience.”
With the injury to Tori Vaughn, Maite Mendizabal got her play time, and really came into her own.
“Maite really came through for us and contributed in a position she wasn’t trained to play,” said Sagnelli.
After all of the tough losses during the beginning of the season, the Blue Devils developed a bond that was noticeable on the court.
“Around mid season we developed a personality. I told them if we get pushed we have to push back, and they took on that personality and fought for every match.”
This mentality showed up throughout the second half of the season, especially during a six match streak of every match going all five sets. While the Blue Devils didn’t win every match, CCSU battled in all of them, constantly overcoming deficits and never giving up.
“This persona really showed up in our victories over LIU and Quinnipiac. Those games described the fight for this season, I love how they fought and never gave up,” said Sagnelli.
After the season, two Blue Devils were awarded All-Conference awards. Kaitlin Petrella was named the NEC Libero of the year for the second year straight and was named to the First Team All-NEC squad. Sara DeLacey was also honored by being named to the Second Team All-NEC.
“Around mid way through the season everything started clicking for Sara. I can’t wait to watch her development, she is going to be unstoppable next year,” said Sagnelli.
With the season over, Coach Sagnelli finds herself in the difficult position of replacing two integral parts of her team. Both Petrella and Amanda Bayer will be graduating this year.
Petrella is CCSU’s all-time dig leader and a two-time NEC Libero of the year, and Bayer is the all-time assists leader. Petrella runs the defense while Bayer runs the offense, so their replacements have big shoes to fill.
“You can’t really replace Kaitlin Petrella. She was our defensive anchor for all four years, but we are fortunate to have had Amalia Ashley in our system for a year. She has been training all year to replace Petrella,” said Sagnelli.
Danielle Gasser will be taking over for Bayer, and Sagnelli feels she is ready to make the transition.
“She is more than ready,” said Sagnelli. “She has been on the court all year, and she’s a great leader, she was our co-captain this year. She knows she has big shoes to fill, but she is ready to do it. Graduating them isn’t easy, but we hope we can build upon what they’ve done.”
Even thought the season just ended, Coach Sagnelli is already excited for next year.
“It’s so competitive right now, Sacred Heart has a very steady team and Robert Morris and LIU will be right back in there. Our conference is very close, I’m really looking forward to getting back out there.”
With her core of seniors gone, Coach Sagnelli will have a new look team out on the court, but the goal will always remain the same: capture the team’s first NEC title.