After a perfect start to the year, Boston College volleyball finally suffered its first bitter taste of defeat in this weekend’s New England Challenge.
Entering the tournament with a spotless mark through nine games, the Eagles felt the pressure to earn bragging rights in local battles against Harvard, Northeastern and Massachusetts Lowell. The result was two disappointing losses to the Crimson and Huskies that sandwiched a home win over the River Hawks. Each game went to four or five sets, but errors plagued them in the defeats and spoiled a chance at continuing a program-best undefeated run.
“We have to find a way to reduce errors,” head coach Jason Kennedy said after the trio of local matchups. “We have to learn to play as aggressively in the beginning of the game as we do in the final sets.”
Kennedy’s frustration with slow starts is well-warranted, as BC (10-2) lost the first set in all three matchups. The Eagles were strong in the latter half of matches—at times almost doubling its attack percentage by the final set—but twice it proved too late.
BC concluded the tournament on Saturday night with a loss in four sets to Northeastern (6-6), a team that has historically been tough for the Eagles to find consistency against.
The Huskies were fresher, having played just one of their tournament matches. Gabrielle Tschannen paced the Northeastern offense, as they built an early 9-3 lead and kept BC at arm’s length throughout the first set, winning, 25-19. The teams traded points in the second set with seven lead changes. Despite McKenna Goss’ eighth kill of the night, the Huskies ended the set on a 7-4 run to win the set, 25-21.
In true form, there was a bounce-back performance from Kennedy’s team after the half. The third set was anyone’s game until Goss’ ninth and 10th kills helped the Eagles claw their way to an 18-16 lead. After a few BC errors, the teams battled point-for-point before the Eagles manufactured a three-point swing to take the frame, 25-23, forcing the match into a fourth set.
Still, the slow start would prove too much to overcome. Early in the fourth, Northeastern jumped out to a 7-4 lead, forcing an early BC timeout. If anything, the timeout helped the Huskies, as they came off the break with a 4-1 run and used the resulting momentum to carry them throughout the set. The Eagles never got closer than six points the rest of the way, losing the frame, 25-16, and the match along with it.
Friday’s first set against UMass Lowell (1-11) was also an erroneous one for the Eagles, as they struggled against a strong Lowell defense. Within the first two minutes, a ferocious attack by Jill Strokis was immediately returned, revealing the the River Hawks’ ability to keep the ball in play. BC’s Cat Balido and Amaka Chukwujekwu crowded the centerline and managed to block attacks by UMass Lowell standout Malia Randolph, but the strategy wasn’t enough in the early going, as they conceded the first set, 25-21.
The second set was marked by trading points with Lowell, eventually holding a two-point lead midway through the set. This was short-lived, though, as the Eagles came off a timeout with four kills, claiming the second set, 25-23. In the second frame, an ace by libero Makenzie Morrison paired with three River Hawks errors gave BC the four-point win and a commanding set lead.
Dominating the final set, the Eagles displayed their best offensive skills of the match—and of the entire challenge. Dictating a fast pace, BC surged ahead with three-consecutive kills by Clare Naughton. The Eagles found their rhythm and cruised through the rest of the frame, doubling up UMass Lowell to finish the set, 25-10, and earn their 10th win of the season.
Earlier in the week, however, BC suffered its first loss on the year in a five-set match against Harvard (5-4).
The Eagles conceded a close first set, but kept their heads, responding to a Crimson service error with a 9-1 run to take the second frame 25-19. The third set was anyone’s game until the last half, where momentum shifted to the Crimson and a 7-2 surge forced set point. The Eagles held off three set points before ultimately conceding the frame, 25-21.
In the fourth set, the teams battled back and forth, trading points until two-straight Eagles points gave them a 19-17 lead. BC was able to close the frame on a 6-5 run, forcing a fifth set with a 25-22 victory. In the fifth, the teams were evenly matched until Harvard scored three unanswered, prompting a BC timeout with a score of 13-8. The Eagles attempted to rally, but found their rhythm too late, as the Crimson claimed the set and match.
“That game was frustrating,” Strokis said. “It’s particularly frustrating for us juniors who have lost to them the past three years, but we’re stepping up our blocking and focusing on coming out strong. We have a winning culture now, and we’re intent on making [Coach Kennedy] proud.”
Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Staff