By Tim Foley, news staff

After three rough games at the New England Challenge tournament held in Chestnut Hill and Cambridge, the Northeastern University (NU) women’s volleyball team is in need of a confidence booster as it begins the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) season.

“[The New England Challenge] is a tournament we’ve controlled most years,” Head Coach Ken Nichols said. “The teams in New England without doubt are getting better, and we are struggling.”

The Huskies followed last week’s win against the New Jersey Institute of Technology with three straight losses in the final non-league tournament of the season. Northeastern (3-12) dropped nine of 10 sets over the three-game stretch.

On Wednesday, the team fell to Hofstra University in a tight 5-set match. The game went down to the final straw, and the Huskies lost in the fifth set by two points. Sophomore middle Carmen Costa tallied a career-high 11 kills.

A consistent problem with the team at the New England Challenge was hitting errors. On Friday against Boston College (BC), the Huskies had four players with negative hitting percentages. For the first time this season, the team hitting percentage dipped into negative digits (-.019).

Nichols said the cause of the unforced errors was a combination of the talent of BC and the psychological struggle of the Huskies.

The women held their own early but gave up five consecutive points to BC midway through the first set. They lost 20-25. The following set was no better – the Huskies managed only 15 points in the frame and could not build any momentum.

In the third set, the Huskies were ousted 25-12 and were swept in the match. The BC backline was strong – three players posted double-digit digs – and Northeastern’s hitters seemed rattled.

“I think BC might be as good as they’ve ever been,” Nichols said.

The women got a night of rest and took on Harvard University on Saturday in Cambridge. The Huskies continued to struggle but put up more of a fight than in their previous game.

After dropping the first set 25-22, the Huskies finally found a spark.

NU came back from a 10-5 deficit and strung together five points in a row to eventually tie the score at 14.

The Husky front line was strong in the set, with outside hitters Brigitte Burcescu and Cherylain Dizon and Costa all contributing multiple kills in the comeback.

Junior outside hitter Hannah Fry subbed into the game and had a crucial kill to tie the score at 23. The Huskies won the next two points and took the set, but Fry landed awkwardly on the play and suffered a lower-body injury.

“She absolutely ripped the ball,” Nichols said. “It was one of the most athletic things I’ve ever seen Hannah do, but it was so athletic that she landed the wrong way.”

Fry was unable to return, and the team had trouble maintaining the momentum in the third. Harvard scored 10 points in a row to take a 17-5 lead, and Northeastern dropped the set 25-15.

In the fourth, consecutive kills from senior Dizon helped to cut Harvard’s lead but, after a timeout, Harvard was able to finish the frame 25-21 and complete a four-set victory.

In the next match against the University of Connecticut (UConn), Northeastern was unable to win a set but Nichols said he saw some improvements from the previous two games.

“We finally got our hitting percentage figured out,” Nichols said. “From stem to stern it seems nearly everybody had a really good match attacking, but then we let the other team outpace us.”

Northeastern kept it mostly even in the first and second, but could only manage 16 points in the third set as UConn completed the sweep.

Nichols knows that with the league season starting, the team will need strong leadership on the court. Setter Jamie Bredahl is in her third year on the team and has stood out so far.

“Jamie, as a young setter, needed those leadership qualities,” Nichols said. “She’s taken a lot of those experiences and she gives a very balanced series of directions out there.”

Nichols also said that junior libero Ashlee Asada has taken on a leadership role from the back line.

“Ashlee, as well, has really stepped up this year and is not afraid to be vocal about both shortcomings of her play and her teammates,” Nichols said.

The Huskies will play two home games this weekend. They face Elon University on Friday at 7 p.m. and the College of William & Mary on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics.