When Boston College volleyball head coach Chris Campbell stepped down from his position after a shaky eight-year run, there was hope that his replacement could inject life into a program that last posted a winning record in 2004. And, through the first three games under new head coach Jason Kennedy, that hope has started to spread. Hosting a trio of teams over two days of games in the Boston College Invitational, BC (3-0) went undefeated, following up sweeps of Hartford (0-2) and Providence (1-2) with a come-from-behind victory over Sacred Heart (1-1) in front of a capacity crowd on Saturday night.
It was an impressive season-opening weekend for BC, especially after managing just seven wins all of last year. The Eagles had to battle in the opening sets against Hartford and Providence, but eventually steamrolled past the New England opponents. They bore the same result after dropping the first set to Sacred Heart in the finale—BC responded by coming out quickly to large leads, then ground out the win in the decisive third set. Kennedy’s team was especially stout on defense, an area that wasn’t a strong suit in years past.
“I think our serve receive is really crucial to our offense and in the past we haven’t had a very strong serve receive,” McKenna Goss told BCEagles.com. “This season we’ve really picked that up and have been getting our setter on the net, able to run things in tempo. That gives us a huge advantage over other teams because we run such a fast offense. When passing is on, setting is on and hitting is easy.”
Goss, a senior, has accumulated just 27 wins over three years on the Heights. This year, however, is shaping up to be a much better experience. She led the way in the third game, piling up a match-best 16 kills and committing just two errors. The other starring roles went to Cat Balido, who had a pair of double-doubles over the weekend; Jane Dejarld, who led the team in assists all three games; and Makenzie Morrison, who anchored the defense.
Almost all of the Eagles’ postgame quotes were centered around a “new beginning,” and that was clear right off the bat against Hartford. The Hawks built an early 19-15 lead in the first, but BC didn’t let them escape with a single set. Behind Balido, the Eagles battled back to pull even at 19, then took their first lead on a service ace from Madison McKnight. A 4-1 run sealed the comeback, and BC was quickly off and running. A 9-1 run in the second set set the stage for the Eagles to finish off the visitors emphatically, building a 21-6 lead and coasting to the win.
The momentum carried over into Saturday morning’s matchup with Providence, a team that had beat BC in four sets a year ago. This year, the first set reflected a very even battle with 11 tie points. The Friars held a slim one-point lead, 21-20, when they called a timeout, fully realizing the importance of getting ahead of a suddenly confident Eagles team. The timeout backfired. BC regrouped under Kennedy and pulled away with five-straight points to win, two coming via kills from Goss.
BC won the second set behind an early 10-point lead—an advantage that proved sustainable, even in light of a late Friars push. The third wasn’t even a contest, as the Eagles, sensing a defeated opponent, cruised to victory. Four Providence errors handed BC an early 9-3 lead, and the Eagles only improved from there, rattling off seven points in a row before rolling to a 25-8 win.
Saturday night’s finale featured a hiccup, the Eagles dropping the first set to Sacred Heart, but it was a coronation the rest of the way. With Power Gym’s bleachers packed and more standing by the entrance, BC took the last three sets in order, winning all three by seven-plus points.
The Pioneers came out strong, surmounting an 11-5 lead, but the lone set win of the weekend for a BC opponent didn’t come easy. Behind kills from Clare Naughton and Balido, as well as blocks from Goss and Amaka Chukwujekwu, the Eagles trailed just 21-17. Still, the late rally wasn’t enough, as the Pioneers claimed the set, 25-21. However, fans weren’t surprised when BC came out strong in the second—it had played arguably better down the stretch, and pieces started to come together.
The second frame was characterized by an Eagles team that was clearly frustrated with their first-set performance. They built an early 11-5 lead, forcing a Sacred Heart timeout, behind two kills apiece from Naughton and Jill Strockis. From there, BC created even more separation, using a four-point run to pull away and even things up with a 25-14 win.
Goss carried the team in the third set, piling up six kills. The Eagles had strong performances across the board, and a 6-0 run featuring points from Naughton, Ally Mullen, and Jewel Strawberry stretched an early lead to 10—one that they wouldn’t relinquish. The third set featured a resilient effort from the Pioneers, as they led as late as 13-12. Still, with the crowd willing BC on, the Eagles righted the ship and pulled ahead, eventually winning on the back of a 6-0 run to end the match—the final point was a block from Mullen, a play reflective of the strong defensive effort put forth throughout the weekend.
The 3-0 start for Kennedy is the best opening for a first-year coach in program history—just one of the previous five coaches managed to post a winning record through three games. Campbell, the team’s previous head coach, went 0-3 in his first campaign on the Heights. It’s an exciting shift for fans of the program, and the players as well. The “new beginning for BC volleyball,” as Naughton described it, will get its first road test next weekend at the Grand Canyon Invitational in Phoenix. For now, though, the Eagles can enjoy starting the season with winning nine of 10 sets and can only hope to keep the ball rolling.
Featured Image by Bradley Smart / Heights Editor