Eagles Rebound, Win All Three Games at UConn Challenge

More adversity was faced by Boston College volleyball in the first weekend of the 2019 season than during its first three invitationals last fall. The Eagles dropped two of their first three matches at the Oregon Classic, albeit against difficult competition in Oregon State and Oregon. It was a different start for Jason Kennedy’s second year than his first, a season in which the Eagles kicked off the year with a 9-0 record.

In the UConn Challenge, BC was out to prove that it could rebound from tough losses, and that it did. Kennedy’s crew swept Central Connecticut State, Connecticut, and Iona, losing just three sets along the way. 

The Eagles (4-2) finished the weekend on Saturday morning against Iona (0-6). While the Gaels struggled this weekend, they failed to win a set in any of their three matches—the first two sets on Saturday were highly competitive.

A focused Eagles performance in set one resulted in a 25-21 win on the heels of 19 kills, six of which were by sophomore outside hitter, Jewel Strawberry, who led the Eagles with 44 putaways this weekend. 

The second set was also quite competitive, with momentum swinging back and forth early. Up, 9-8, the Eagles went on a four-point run that gave them the cushion they would need to close out the set, 25-21. In the third frame, BC rode seven early Iona errors to a 14-3 advantage. The Eagles closed out the weekend with a dominant, 21-9 win over the Gaels to complete the sweep in Connecticut.

Friday’s nightcap pitted the Eagles against their host—and UConn (3-3) would prove to be their toughest competition of the weekend. Strawberry paced the Eagles with 17 kills and 16 digs, while Madison McKnight and Jane DeJarld each notched 20-plus assists in a back-and-forth affair that needed five sets to resolve.

BC came out strong in the opening set, jumping out to a quick 7-4 lead. UConn, however, was able to ride a 14-2 run to a first set victory, a shift contributed to by six Eagles’ errors and a pair of service aces from the Huskies. After the run, UConn cruised to a 25-19 victory.

BC tightened it up in the second set, riding 12 kills and just three errors to a wire-to-wire 25-16 victory. Strawberry and Jill Strockis were locked in, tallying five and four kills, respectively. BC took advantage of a mid-set 6-0 run that saw the Huskies lose five consecutive points on errors or service aces.

The Eagles carried the momentum from their second set victory into the third, where they took a 2-1 lead in the match with a dominant 25-13 showing. The set was back-and-forth early, but with an 8-7 lead, Kennedy’s team won seven consecutive points on their way to a lead they would not relinquish.

But the momentum pendulum swung back to the Huskies in the fourth set. UConn opened up a 6-1 lead early, en route to an easy 25-15 set win.

In the decisive fifth set, every point was crucial as the teams played to a 5-5 start. After the tie, the Eagles benefit from five kills and two aces as part of a match-clinching 10-3 run that secured the set, 15-8.

Earlier in the day, the Eagles opened the invitational against Central Connecticut State (2-4). The BC attack showed up against the Blue Devils, notching 61 kills with a 23 percent hitting percentage. Cat Balido and Amaka Chukwujekwu led the Eagles with 14 putaways a piece. CCSU gave the Eagles a tough match, taking it four long sets, but the Eagles were determined to get back to .500 and start the weekend off on the right foot. 

BC took control early on in the first set, getting out to an 8-3 lead. After battling back into the frame, Strawberry closed the door on the thought of a Blue Devils comeback, recording three consecutive kills to round out the set, 25-14.

CCSU would not go down without a fight, however, and came out storming in the second set. The Blue Devils capitalized on BC mistakes to take a quick 7-3 lead, and while the Eagles clawed their way back into the set late, 10 total errors in the frame helped CCSU even the match with a 25-20 set victory.

It seemed as if the Eagles flipped a switch entering the third set. BC received a locked-in effort from Chukwujekwu, who had four kills in the first 14 points of the set, after which BC led, 12-2. The fast start would be too much for the Blue Devils to overcome, and the Eagles took the set, 25-17. 

The drama-filled fourth set saw intense points that led to a 22-22 tie with the match hanging in the balance. With no side able to muster the two-point edge to earn the set, the frame proceeded to 27-27. With a fifth frame looming, Strockis stepped up and delivered a kill, and a CCSU attacking error completed the opening match victory, 29-27, for the Eagles.

With Kennedy’s team finding its groove against lesser local opponents, the Eagles will aim to translate that to a slightly tougher test next weekend at the FAU Invitational down in Boca Raton, Fla. The host, Florida Atlantic, is fresh off a dominant 21-win season and swept the FAU Invitational last season.

Featured Image by Kaitlin Meeks/ Heights Senior Staff