Entering this season, Boston College volleyball second-year head coach Jason Kennedy aimed to test his team’s resilience right off the bat. He purposefully scheduled tougher non-conference opponents than 2018—a season in which the Eagles steamrolled through their first three weekends but then had a much tougher go in conference play.
“This non-conference schedule will help us immensely in preparing for the ACC,” Kennedy told BCEagles.com when he announced the schedule. “Playing two Pac-12 teams right off the bat will be a good measuring stick for us to gauge what we’ve accomplished this spring and give our freshmen a good opportunity to see some high level competition”
So, BC opened the 2019 campaign in Eugene, Ore., participating in the Oregon Classic that featured a pair of Pac-12 foes. The Eagles dropped two of three, falling to Oregon State on Friday before splitting a Saturday doubleheader, winning against UC Irvine and losing to No. 11 Oregon.
The weekend finale came against the Ducks (2-0), who reached the Elite Eight in 2018 and piled up 23 wins. Oregon was paced by a trio of returning All-Americans, with the headliner senior Willow Johnson—the right side hitter was named the Oregon Classic MVP and had 14 kills in the 3-0 win.
The first two games were closely contested, which is a promising sign for Kennedy’s side. The Eagles (1-2) took a 9-6 lead in the first match and were tied up at 12 apiece with the nationally-ranked Ducks. They even hung around, trailing, 22-21, near the end, but Ronika Stone, Taylor Williams, and Karson Bacon each picked up kills to seal the win.
The second game was an example of resilience, as Oregon stormed out to an 11-3 lead only to see BC rally to eventually close it to 22-20. Again, the Ducks finished strong, using a few of Johnson’s six kills to ice the game by a 25-20 margin. The third one was the least dramatic, as Oregon closed on a 5-0 run to win, 25-16.
Overall, the first two sets were strong performances for Kennedy’s team. To hang with one of the best teams in the country with several All-Americans is no small feat, and even more so on their home court. BC’s Jewel Strawberry impressed, racking up nine kills and six digs, while Madison McKnight added 13 assists.
Earlier in the day, the Eagles came away with their first victory of the new year, sweeping the Anteaters (0-2), 3-0. Strawberry led all players with 12 kills, while freshman Torey Baum had an impressive 15 digs and seven assists.
BC came out strong in the first set, building a 5-0 lead on the back of two kills from Clare Naughton. The Eagles strung together a six-point run later in the set to extend the lead to 11-3, and UC Irvine didn’t get closer to four points the rest of the way, as it ultimately ended 25-18 with Baum registering a service ace.
In the second set, it was a similar story but closer overall. BC again built a stout 5-1 lead, but would trade points with the Anteaters the rest of the way. UC Irvine came within one on several occasions, pulling near at 19-18, but the Eagles used a 5-0 run to create distance. Three errors from the Anteaters pushed BC’s lead, and Strawberry eventually ended the set with a kill.
The Eagles polished off the win with a 25-20 set, again coming out of the gate strong with a 7-2 push that featured two service aces from Jane DeJarld. Whenever UC Irvine would get close, BC would go on a run, with a pair of 4-0 stretches in the back half of play. Sophie West had a kill and Strawberry ended the victory with a service ace.
The day prior, the Eagles faltered against an Oregon State (2-0) side that went just 11-21 a season ago. The Beavers, who were perfect on the weekend at Matthew Knight Arena, won in three sets and mirrored the way BC would start against UC Irvine. They jumped out to decisive leads of 9-3, 15-4, and 10-4 and were able to hold off any rally efforts.
Chloe Brown led Oregon State with 13 kills and teammate Kory Cheshire registered 10, which was a tough combination for the Eagles to overcome. Brown started the first set with a kill in response to two quick BC points, and Maddie Sheehan followed with a pair of service aces to get the ball rolling. Soon, the Eagles were looking at a 13-6 deficit. They rallied somewhat behind kills from West, but were never that close in a lopsided 25-14 loss.
In the second set, it was even more of a blowout. Any season-opening jitters were on display as BC committed seven errors. While the match was tied at four apiece at one point, it quickly got away from the Eagles, with the Beavers going on an extensive 11-0 run that really sealed the deal in a 25-11 decision. The third set was the closest, but BC still lost by nine points, falling, 25-16.
Overall, two losses to Pac-12 teams is nothing to frown about—the conference placed six teams in the preseason top-25 poll. The Eagles committed 12 more errors than their opponents over the course of the weekend and posted a much lower kill percentage, reaching as low as .070 against Oregon State. There’s plenty of positives for Kennedy to take away, though, as his team improved with each match and held their own against a top-ranked foe. It’s not the same as a 9-0 start from last season, but is potentially more promising when you consider strength of schedule.
Featured Image by Celine Lim / Heights Editor