By David F.P. [Modest Image Gallery]
FAIRFIELD, CT- The Niagara Purple Eagles entered Alumni Hall Sunday afternoon 1-0 in MAAC conference play and swept the host Fairfield Stags 3 sets to zero in nonetheless a very close match.
Set 1 would be a 25-21 win for Niagara but not without some fierce exchanges back and forth. For Fairfield Camille Coffey opened up the scoring. Niagara picked up two quick point sand then Hannah Hedrick served up an ace for the Purple Eagles. Rachel Romansky used a fake set which she instead hit into the opposing zone for Fairfield’s second point. Kathy Bibler responded for Niagara, and Hayley Moyer returned fire for Fairfield. A few points later and Caitlin Stapleton was sending a smash across for a brief Stag lead, but the two sides had some more various errors and another exchange of points brought it to 8-8. The two teams continued to spar to the 12-12 including some unusually long volley’s back and forth. Bibler and Hedrick teamed up on a block to give their team a two point lead, but Fairfield clawed back. Kari Honomichi added a kill, but following a great defensive play by Carsen Mata, Stapleton rocketed a ball off a defender and into the pep band to tie the score at 12.
The Purple Eagles took a one point lead only to have two Moyer service Aces regain it for the Stags. Niagara tied things back up when Hedrick shot a ball off the hands of the defenders, but Brianna Dixion responded for Fairfield and Kendal Dirkin launched a cross court kill, a Niagara error later had the Stags up 19-16, but the visitors caught back up and started to roll. Two kills from Ellen Senf tied and took the lead, two more Fairfield attack errors added to it, but Fairfield kept fighting still, they were stuck at 21 points and Niagara’s Amanda Wilken ended the set with a kill. 25-21.
Set 2 was an unusually lopsided affair as Niagara pulled out to an 8-0 lead thanks to three straight kills from Hedrick, another point, and then following an extremely long volley back and forth yet another Hedrick kill. One point later, Nicole Bayer served up an Ace, and Bibler followed with a kill of her own. Fairfield broke the drought benefiting from two attack errors but they were in quite a hole. A cross court smash from Senf and a tip over from Kari Honomichi extended the lead back to 8 and the Purple Eagles kept going, as Senf added three more kills amidst a run to 15-2.
Fairfield however stopped the bleeding, with Dirkin taking a set and launching a big kill. She then teamed with Dixion on a block, several points followed for the stags including another kill from Dixion. The score was now a less daunting but still big deficit of 15-7. Senf and Bibler each had a kill to extend the lead back to 10, but Romanski responded for Fairfield, Bibler launched a massive blast over to keep their advantage though.
Another Fairfield point was outdistanced by two points from Honomichi and Hedrick for Niagara. However, Fairfield added two more points, only to give up two including a Sam Morgan service ace for the Eagles. Still Fairfield kept picking up points including a Dixion block. Hedrick unleashed another missile to put her team within 1, the Stags would delay the win two more points before Hedrick struck yet again to close it out 15-25. Though the Stags did go on a 13-10 run to close out the set, the deficit was too great to make up in that set.
Set 3 however would be far more conventional. The Stags leapt to a 6-4 lead thanks in part to a kill from Coffey and one from Dixion. Niagara’s offense included kills from Wilken and Senf. The Purple Eagles closed the gap to 6-6 and later 8-8 though. Stapleton had another huge kill to tie the set at 9 though as Fairfield tried to build a lead Hedrick stopped it with a kill of her own, two points later Bayer was serving up an ace for 12-10 lead. Dirkin responded, but Niagara clung to a small lead thanks in part to more Bibler offense. Honomichi ended a long back and forth with another kill to preserve another two point lead, though Stapleton added a crushing smash to cut the lead to 1.
Niagara tried to pull away to a three point lead, but Lindsay Weaver had a kill from the net to blunt that try. The Purple Eagles snagged another point but the Stags made a charge as Dixion whacked the ball off the defenders’ touch, and three more Stags point followed. Niagara tied it back up, but Dixion came up big again. That would be the last chance for the Stags though as Senf typhooned a kill in and before long it was 21-24. The Stags delayed the set loss twice including a block from Coffey and Weaver, but Senf ended set and match 25-23.
The loss dropped Coach Alija Pittenger’s Stags to 1-1 in the MAAC. For Susan Clements and the Purple Eagles, they remained undefeated in conference play with a 2-0 record.