After Clemson registered back-to-back points to trim an already slim Boston College volleyball lead to just one in the fourth set, Eagles head coach Jason Kennedy took a timeout. His team had battled back from a loss in the first set and was on the verge of escaping South Carolina with a win—a road victory, too—in the conference season opener.
Still, they had one more point to get. Sophomore outside hitter Jewel Strawberry, working on yet another impressive game, came into the huddle and without hesitation, asked for the ball. On the ensuing serve, teammate Madison McKnight set her up and she spiked it between two Tigers’ defenders, securing BC’s 3-1 victory.
“I was excited,” Strawberry said after, per the ACC Network. “We live for this. Match point, I want the ball to finish the game. I was super excited for that.”
Strawberry finished with 18 kills and 11 digs in the win, powering BC (10-4, 1-0 Atlantic Coast) to a win in its ACC opener for the second year in a row under Kennedy. Cat Balido added 12 kills, Jane Dejarld had 26 assists and 10 digs, and McKnight chipped in with 25 assists as well. It was a strong effort on the road from Kennedy’s side, as BC dug an early hole with a 25-20 loss out of the gate but rebounded with three straight sets won.
The Tigers (6-6, 0-1) played well in the first set, but it took them a bit to pull away. Clemson held a slim 9-8 lead after an attack error from Kaylin Korte, but then took eight of the next nine points in a decisive surge. It sent the Eagles reeling, as they suddenly were looking at a 17-10 deficit on the scoreboard. The teams split the next six points before BC took consecutive timeouts with Clemson up, 22-13. The purpose of the timeout was twofold: First, the Eagles had just conceded a 4-0 run and were trying to stop the bleeding, and second, Kennedy wanted his team to focus on the sets to come.
It worked. BC scored seven of the next nine points, and while the Tigers duo of Mckenna Slavik and Annika Clark blocked Clare Naughton for the set point, the Eagles were playing better and settling into a rhythm.
“I think we expected them to come out with their hair on fire,” Kennedy said. “We tried to set them up for that. We wanted to get to 20 [points]. We lost the first set, 25-20, and that got us some momentum going into the second set. We were able to fight that.”
The second set, which featured four lead changes, showed BC’s resilience. The frame was tightly contested, with both sides swapping points throughout. Eventually, an attack error from the Eagles’ Sophie West handed the Tigers a 19-17 edge, and it seemed as if Clemson could pull away for a decisive two-set advantage. Kennedy promptly called a timeout, and BC emerged ready to go. A trio of Clemson errors—two on Korte—handed the Eagles the lead, and Naughton then chipped in a pair of kills. A few points later, it was Naughton again, punctuating a 25-21 set win with a kill.
In the third, Balido had four of her team’s first five points, but Clemson went on to build a 10-7 lead. The Eagles clawed their way back, tying it at 11 and 12 points apiece via a service ace from Strawberry and a kill from West. From there, Amaka Chukwujekwu came up with a block and then added a kill to create breathing room, and BC never trailed from then on. There was never sufficient breathing room, as back-to-back kills from Solei Thomas—who finished with a game-high 19 kills—trimmed the Eagles’ lead to 21-20, but Thomas immediately committed consecutive errors, and the hopes at stealing the crucial third set were gone.
Strawberry’s heroics punctuated the fourth and final set, but it was a slow burn to get there. The teams, much as they had throughout the night, traded points. It saw six ties, with the first 20 points split evenly down the middle. After the 10-10 deadlock, though, BC went on a 5-1 run featuring kills from Chukwujekwu, West, and Balido, and it was a lead that it wouldn’t relinquish. The Eagles sure came close to doing so, especially after taking a 24-21 lead and promptly conceding a pair of kills to Korte, but Strawberry’s closing strike was a no-doubter.
The win was a big one, as BC entered 6-20 all-time against the Tigers and had lost a five-set heartbreaker at the end of the 2018 season that spoiled its chances at an above-.500 season. That 15-15 mark from last year seems to be in the rear view window for this team, though, as they’ve gotten off on the right foot in ACC play and will aim to continue it against Georgia Tech on Sunday.
“I’m so excited,” Strawberry said after. “We’re so grateful for our coach and everything he’s doing for our program. The future is looking great.”
Featured Image by Brianna Foley / BC Athletics