By David F. Pendrys
FAIRFIELD, CT- After LIU Brooklyn had won six straight NEC Volleyball Championships, Sacred Heart was the one who broke the streak with two straight of their own. LIU responded by winning three more titles after that. Robert Morris wrested the 2015 championship away from the two, but the 2016 edition of the Championship put SHU and LIU back on a collision course in SHU’s Pitt Center Sunday afternoon.
The result was five sets of great action which went into extra points after a victor could not be found at the 15 point mark of set five.
LIU found offensive from a variety of sources including Alex Larsen’s 17 kills, Jiayi Zhang’s 12, and Viktoria Fink’s 11 among the teams 56 points. Katharina Krepper provided the team with 5 solo blocks and 2 shared ones. Filippa Hansson shared 7 blocks with teammates, Zhang shared 5, Amanda Hubbard teamed up for 4, Sonja Vukosavljevic shared 3, and Larson shared 2.
Viktoria Fink and Larsen each had 1 service ace. Hubbard posted 50 assists, Fink had 11 digs, and the libero Emily Magee hit 10 digs, followed by Larsen and Alex Lilliquist’s 9.
On SHU’s side, Allison Riggs and Makayla Dole each had 16 kills, Sarah Krufka had 15, and Liisel Nelis and Maddie Losure had 11 each. Losure had the team’s only solo block. Dole and Riggs each shared 3 blocks, Gianna Scioletti shared 2, and Nelis and Krufka each took part in 1.
Lea Lieb had 31 assists, and Kiki Robinson put up 29. Nelis led the team in digs with 19. Dole and libero Ana Gonzalez had 14 each.
Nelis served up 3 aces, Gonzalez had 2, and Robinson, Riggs, Dole, and Lieb each had 1.
The Blackbirds of LIU had taken set 1 26-24 holding off the Pioneers barely. SHU responded by coming back in set 2 to take a 25-23 win and deny LIU a two set advantage. Set 3 proved to be surprising as LIU was overwhelmed 25-11, but they rebounded in set 4, taking a strong lead only to have SHU fight back. The visitors were able to regain the advantage just enough for a 27-25 set win setting up the decisive set 5.
Set 1 had been fairly back and forth until SHU got a slight lead cobbled together thanks to a Dole kill sandwiched between two LIU errors. As the teams trade points the Pioneers clung to a three point lead which became a two point lead and late, a serve into the net by the Pioneers cut the lead back to 2 only to have Zhang block another attack, and a SHU spike out of play resulted in a 23-23 tie. From there LIU wrestled the momentum away as Hansson and Fink blocked an attack to take the lead, and a home team error gave LIU the set.
In the second set the two teams volleyed to a 8-8 tie before LIU gained a slight lead. The Blackbirds grew their advantage to 17-13 after Larsen whacked the puck off the blockers and out of bounds only to follow that up with a service ace, and a Pioneers error followed. SHU gave chase but LIU perched at 22-18 before the home team took a time out. Krufka restarted the team’s chances kabonking a spike off the opponent’s blocking line. LIU then hit the ball into the net on the ensuing back and forth. Riggs then shot it through the blockers. Larsen responded with a cross court rocket to keep the lead at 23-21, but another LIU error, and a combined Nelis & Riggs block tied the game back up setting up Dole’s service ace and a spike from Losure to end the set.
Set 3 featured Sacred Heart getting out to a 8-1 lead and holding steady to keep the Blackbirds from getting back into it. With a 2 to 1 sets lead, the Pioneers could claim the title just closing out the fourth set, but LIU had other ideas as they built a 18-12 lead. SHU responded building off their opponent’s attack error. Nelis blasted a ball off the blockers and then hit another attack off a defender’s dig. Another LIU attack sailed out of play and it was suddenly 18-16. Fink momentarily stopped the bleeding with her kill, but Losure’s kill cut the lead again.
The Blackbirds would commit an error and Riggs served up an ace to tie it at 19. Hanson responded this time for LIU regaining the lead and a Pioneers attack error returned the deficit to 2. SHU gave chase and Dole smashed down a LIU overpass to tie it at 24. She then landed another kill to take the lead, but LIU regained control after a Larsen kill and a home team error gave them the lead back. Hubbard and Hansson then leapt up to block SHU’s effort and the set was theirs.
So it came down to Set 5. Early on it appeared that LIU was taking control as they built a 8-4 lead. SHU realized their predicament and rallied back as both Losure and Nelis spiked kills over in rapid succession. A SHU error , a Krepper kill, and a block from Krepper and Zhang put the lead at a dangerous 11-6. The two teams traded points but LIU led 12-7 putting them only 3 points away from victory.
Krufka responded cutting the lead again and Dole had two straight kills before Nelis landed a service ace just in bounds. Krufka then struck again with a mighty swipe and the score came to be 12-12. Each side scored points in a back and forth fashion until Zhang dispatched the ball of the Pioneers blockers to take a 17-16 lead. Riggs matched her point with a kill, but Zhang added another kill to take the lead immediately back. She and Krepper then blocked the SHU attack back at them and the final score came to be 19-17.
LIU goes on to the NCAA Tournament from here. SHU now has a 22-8 record which was 13-1 in conference, but an apparent game vs. Fairfield on the 28th.