Fall, Volleyball

Strockis, Eagles Remain Perfect With Sweep of Grand Canyon Invitational

Much is often written about the culture that new coaches look to build upon arriving, and that was certainly true when Jason Kennedy, a part of the national powerhouse Southern California, arrived on the Heights as the sixth head coach in Boston College volleyball history. He inherited a roster loaded with returners from a team that managed just seven wins in 2017, and eight the year prior. Kennedy, after arriving, spoke about how at USC, one offseason they dramatically changed the way they did things, and a few years later, they were the No. 1 team in the nation. Now, with the Eagles, he’s worked on instilling his way of doing things, and after a highly successful weekend in Arizona, the results are streaming in.

BC went a perfect 3-0 at the Grand Canyon Invitational, sweeping through Phoenix with relative ease to continue its impressive start to the season. With wins over Jacksonville State, Southern Utah, and the hosts Grand Canyon University, the Eagles (6-0) have lost just three sets total in their first six matches and are off to the program’s best start. The combination of a new coach, established starters, and plenty of growth has seen BC go from wallowing under Chris Campbell to actually building excitement and drawing attention. Even if it’s just six games into Kennedy’s tenure and not a single one of the team’s first six opponents finished within the top 150 by RPI last season, a perfect record through six tries is still an impressive achievement for a program that managed just 15 over the last two seasons combined.

Saturday night’s win, a thorough victory over GCU, was a fitting punctuation mark on the weekend. The Eagles were at their best on offense, posting a season-best attack percentage (.438) and winning in straight sets—25-17, 25-17, and 25-13. Jill Strockis, who merited the Invitational MVP award, led the way—she had 11 kills and 11 digs, finishing the three-game road trip with a double-double in each outing. Strockis, who made the transition to play as libero a season ago, has quickly come into form for the Eagles. She averaged just over five kills per game across the first three wins, but has since totaled 36 and hasn’t recorded less than 11 digs in a single match.

Strockis had plenty of support in the finale—Amaka Chukwujekwu had a career-high 11 kills, Jane Dejarld racked up 26 assists, and Makenzie Morrison finished with 12. Together, the four of them earned spots on the All-Tournament team, taking up half of the selections. No other team had more than two representatives, a fact that establishes BC’s strong showing in the four-team field.

Against the host Antelopes, the Eagles found themselves tied at eight apiece early in the first set, but a 4-0 run would put them up for good. It was the same story in the second set, where the teams were deadlocked at seven, but an impressive 9-2 run from BC forced a GCU timeout. With a healthy lead, Cat Balido picked up back-to-back kills, pushing them further out of reach. Then, with a sixth-consecutive win within reach, the Eagles steamrolled through the final set. Up by two midway through, errors from the Lopes and a pair of kills resulted in a nine-point swing, and BC didn’t look back.

Earlier in the day, the Eagles knocked off Southern Utah on the strength of a season-best five aces and stellar performances from DeJarld, Morrison, and Strockis. The Thunderbirds posed a stiffer test, forcing extra points in the first set and nearly rallying late in the second, but BC was able to repel each charge before coasting in the third. Dejarld was seemingly everywhere, piling up 20 assists, 11 digs, and two aces, while Morrison once again excelled on defense with 22 digs. Strockis led the way with 15 kills, setting a new season-high for points, and has already rapidly improved on her points per set from a season ago.

The first game of the weekend, a Friday night affair against Jacksonville State, went the distance. BC showcased resilience, as it dropped the first set, rallied for two-consecutive wins, then eventually took the fifth and final set in extra points. The win, against a Gamecocks team with three wins in their first four games, was marked by back-and-forth play that featured plenty of ties and short runs. Balido paced the attack with a team-best 14 kills, while Morrison was truly remarkable, totaling 31 digs—the eight-most in BC single-game history.

The Eagles had one of their worst games by attacking percentage, but they were bailed out by the Gamecocks having an even worse go of it. Whether it was a product of lengthy travel—BC had a six-hour flight, JSU’s was five—or just a slow start to the weekend, neither team seemed fully “on.” This was clear by the 33 errors committed by the eventual losers, and a season-high 28 for the Eagles. With both teams struggling throughout, it came down to the wire, and the back-and-forth affair culminated in a two-point edge for BC. It was Balido who closed out the win, as with the game tied at 14, she picked up a block and then a kill for the decisive 16th point.

The weekend was a resounding success for Kennedy’s group, as even though Friday night wasn’t BC at it’s best, it was still an important win. With a perfect record entering the Dartmouth Invitational, the Eagles are riding a strong wave of momentum as they’re gunning to equal last year’s total of wins in just the third week of the season—and have a clear path to doing so. The three teams scheduled for next weekend? A combined 2-13 on the young season.

Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor

September 2, 2018