By Tim Foley, news staff
After a road loss against Elon University in the last game of the regular season, the Northeastern women’s volleyball team will head into the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) tournament placed third in the standings.
The Huskies (20-10, 10-6 CAA) finished a game behind first place James Madison University, and fell just short of second place, with the tie-breaker going to the College of Charleston. Finishing in the top two would have given the Huskies a first-round bye, but instead they will have to face the University of Delaware on Friday to advance to the second round.
Before Sunday’s game against Elon, the Northeastern coaching staff came to the decision that both starting outside hitters, senior Hannah Fry and junior Brigitte Burcescu, would sit to ensure their health for the postseason.
“We’re trying to keep the big picture in mind,” head coach Ken Nichols said. “A bye is important, but not at the cost of losing a player.”
Elon had its senior night Sunday, and the energy from the opposing bench was hard for the Huskies to overcome. Though the Northeastern women took the first set, 26-24, they were edged, 29-27, in the second and lost by five in the third. The Phoenix (18-15, 4-12 CAA) will not get a shot at a postseason run this weekend, but Nichols called their team “formidable.”
“[Elon] played well,” Nichols said. “They played well against us last time too. They play everybody well in conference.”
The Huskies were able to even the match in the fourth frame, pulling ahead midway through and sealing it, 25-19.
“We started to figure out our rotation, particularly in the fourth set,” Nichols said. “[Kristen] Walding did a great job of reinventing the rotation.”
Walding, the senior setter, was faced with the challenge of compensating for the absence of Fry and Burcescu. While working with a new rotation was a setback, Northeastern’s ability to still compete was a testament to the depth of the lineup.
“Natalie [Shollin] got in on the right and Carmen [Costa] got in on the left,” Nichols said. “They both did an exceptional job. They kept us in the match.”
Costa, a junior, led the Huskies with 13 kills in the match, while freshman Shollin added 10 of her own.
But the Huskies were unable to complete the comeback in the fifth set, losing 15-8.
“The fifth set is a sprint,” Nichols said. “Over the length of 25 points, I think we might have wiggled out of it.”
The Huskies split their two matches against Delaware this season, but statistically outperformed the Blue Hens in the second, despite losing.
When the two teams meet Friday, home court advantage will be off the table. The tournament, which will take place at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, will not involve the hosting Seahawks, who fell short of the postseason.
A preseason coach’s poll predicted that Northeastern would finish eighth in the conference. The Huskies have vastly exceeded expectations.
“We’re going down [to UNCW] to win a championship,” Nichols said. “But we already have the comfort of knowing that we moved the program forward with the season we’ve had. We hope to be healthy, we hope to have fun and we hope to represent well.”
Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics