By Tim Foley, news staff

The Northeastern University volleyball team is off to a strong start, departing last weekend’s Florida Atlantic Invitational with a 3-1 record.

On a team including 11 returning players from last year, it was freshman outside hitter Amy Underdown, from Temecula, Calif., who led all Huskies with 51 kills at the tournament.

“Amy had a fantastic weekend and got better and better as things went on,” head coach Ken Nichols said.

In addition to Underdown, four other freshmen bring excitement and potential to the team’s lineup this year following a disappointing 2015 campaign. The team lost eight of its final 10 games and finished with a 6-25 overall record, falling short of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament.

Outside hitter Cherylain Dizon, the team’s lone senior last season, won’t be back on the court this fall.

What the team lacked in experience last year should be different this year, said Nichols, who called the 2016 lineup “infinitely deeper.”

He said the other big difference is that the offseason gave the Huskies, who were riddled with injuries last season, a chance to get healthy.

“It wasn’t that the team [last year] was lacking in talent,” Nichols said. “It was that we didn’t have the personnel cleared to step on the court last year.”

Clare Lund, a freshman who plays setter and defensive specialist, came in and contributed 32 assist throughout the weekend – topped only by junior setter Kristen Walding’s 101.

Walding took on the majority of the setting at the invitational, while senior setter Jamie Bredahl moved to outside hitter to fill in for junior Brigitte Burcescu, who is recovering from a lower body injury.

Bredahl, who earned all-CAA preseason honors, posted 44 kills at the invitational, landing a team-best 13 in the opener against Drake University.

The women struggled to find their stride in their opener against Drake University, dropping the first two sets. The Huskies took command in the third, winning 25-18, but fell in the fourth as the Bulldogs sealed a 3-1 victory.

After the loss, it appeared that any off-season rust had been shaken off for the Huskies, as they proceeded to sweep the rest of the tournament. Northeastern came out firing against Bethune-Cookman, securing the victory in a straight-set rout. Walding provided 29 assists, and libero Gabrielle Eyl led the team with 13 digs in the win.

“Eyl had a terrific couple of days,” Nichols said. “She had lots of big digs, and she’s running things very fluidly from the back line.”

Eyl, a sophomore from Boulder, Colorado, played in all 15 sets last weekend and led all Huskies with 5.53 digs per set. Her performance in Saturday’s matches helped propel the team to back-to-back victories, as she dug up 50 balls total against the University of North Florida and Florida Atlantic University.

Northeastern dropped the first set in both of Saturday’s games before rolling through three consecutive sets in each to secure victories. Nichols loved what he saw on the court against tough opponents.

“These are some pretty robust teams that we faced,” Nichols said. “Relative to our youth and injuries, this puts us back on the map.”

Underdown seemed to find her swing and landed double-digit kills against both schools. Nichols said that bringing Underdown and the other four freshmen – Shania White, Nicole Magbanua, Natalie Shollin and Clare Lund – onto the lineup will make a big difference in terms of game plan going forward.

“With more depth, I can use more of my coaching experience,” Nichols, who has been with the Huskies since 2000, said. “I’d rather play chess than checkers.”

Northeastern will have another chance for a weekend checkmate as the women travel to California for the Long Beach State/UC Irvine Mizuno Invitational on Friday.

Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics