Northeastern women’s volleyball clinches win against James Madison, grabbing the ticket to the CAA finals


Photo Courtesy of Hunter Peters

The Huskies claim a win over the JMU Dukes 3-1 in a closely contested set Friday evening.

Mihiro Shimano, sports editor

The Northeastern Huskies came into Friday evening’s semifinal game relatively unstable as they met the James Madison Dukes on Towson University’s home court. However, Northeastern (8-2, 5-1 CAA) made their ultimate comeback, winning their ticket to the CAA Championship 3-1. Due to COVID-19 protocols, JMU (7-3, 6-2 CAA) were down to eight players and just their head coach Lauren Steinbrecher was present at today’s match. 

“I thought that it was very competitive, you know just back and forth defensively, both teams were working really hard,” said Northeastern head coach Lenika Vazquez after the match.

Several self-inflicted errors by Northeastern hurt them as they lost the tightly-contested first set to the Dukes. Having come prepared to play the full team, the Huskies had to make several adjustments to their play, including lessening their aggressive attacks, as JMU began their lineup with just eight of their 17 players. Sophomore opposite outside hitter Erica Staunton and freshman outside hitter Arliel Defne made several strong kills, but they were riddled with errors as the ball flew too far past the edge of the court numerous times. 

The Dukes played an overall composed first set, as the team was mostly made up of juniors, seniors and graduate students, those more experienced with tournament play, allowing them to capitalize on several of the Huskies’ mistakes. On the Northeastern side, sophomore middle blocker Nailah Jenkins held up the offensive side of the line with two back-to-back aces, leading them to tie JMU 14-14. However, the Huskies never gained their momentum fully as they lost the hard-fought set, 23-25.  

The lack of flow continued into the second set for the Huskies as they got off to a rough start, trailing behind JMU 3-7, forcing Vazquez to call an early timeout. Thirteen attack errors and four service errors loomed over Northeastern’s head as they were unable to gain their momentum. Staunton, who has been the key offensive player for the team, had a somewhat challenging game up to this point. On the JMU side, graduate student defensive specialist Karis Beasley kicked off the first half of this set strong, gaining several points from her serves. 

However, the Huskies were just getting started as Jenkins began her stellar attacks, perfectly placing several kills right into the Dukes court. Jenkins gained one ace before racking up another, giving the Huskies a 5-0 scoring run, forcing the Dukes into a timeout to try to break up Jenkins’ serve. Even after the end of the timeout, Northeastern seemed to be back in their momentum, battling head-to-head against JMU. A kill by Arliel, which tipped off of the fingers of a JMU player placed Northeastern at 24-20, giving them the set point. 

But the Dukes were not going down without a fight as sophomore middle blocker Sophia Davis tried to carry her team to the set win, gaining kills. In the end, however, Arliel finished off the set 25-23, giving the Huskies the second set they desperately needed to gain their confidence in this semifinals match up. 

The storyline for the Huskies tonight, if not anything, was teamwork. Despite the unstable start from the usual attackers of Staunton and Arliel, the rest of the team was there to carry the team early on, alleviating pressure from both players and giving them the time to settle into the game. One consistent player, who took over in the third set, was junior opposite outside hitter Brianna Daphnis. Strong both offensively and defensively, Daphnis managed to make defensive plays, which brought the ball back to the Huskies’ court, before attacking right into the other side of the net. 

“Part of us turning around, [Daphnis] got us a couple blocks in there for us that shifted the momentum, which was really great for us at that moment,” Vazquez said on Daphnis’ play.

Sophomore setter Liz Carroll also made several smart kills, with dumps over the net, catching the Dukes off guard. Opposed to the previous two sets, Northeastern cleaned up their errors, giving them an edge of 10 points toward the middle of the set, placing them at 20-9. Although JMU came back in several points, the run streak was broken with a kill by Virthe, 21-16. The Huskies finished off the set 25-18, ending with 17 kills and a hit percentage of .333%. 

Photo Courtesy of Hunter Peters

JMU was not yet ready to give up their ticket to the championships just yet as the fourth set started off with a hustle rally, with the Dukes responding with a dig every time an attack by the Huskies came over the net. The rally ended, resulting in a point for JMU but Vazquez challenged the call, with every point on the line. The call was reversed, with the ball touching the floor one time during the rally, giving Northeastern the point 2-1. Later, a kill by Arliel in the corner would also be challenged by JMU, leading the game to become a heavily contested battle on and off the court. 

In this set, with a sense of urgency, Staunton finally picked up momentum, finding the floor with her vicious kills. Arliel, along with Jenkins also picked up the pace, scoring several kills into the empty spaces of the Dukes court. In the end, however, it was a setter’s dump by Carroll that ended the run for JMU, 25-21. 

Ahead of the game, several players were recognized by the CAA. Senior Samantha Shupe was named Setter of the Year, having played a key role as an assist to the team. In the All-CAA Team, Staunton and Jenkins were named to the First Team, sophomore libero Kayla Martin was named Second Team and Arliel was named to the Rookie Team. 

The Huskies will have a quick turnaround as they look to play the winner of the other semifinal match, No.1 North conference seed Towson University todayt at 3 p.m. 

“Just bringing it,” Vazquez said ahead of the Towson game. “We’re going to have to outdefend them and just be really gritty. That’s the type of game we’re going to have to bring [today].”