If you’ve been paying attention to Boston College volleyball, you were likely caught off guard by a season-opening 10-1 run, a run that tied for the best mark in program history. The Eagles went on to win both the conference games on their opening weekend, too, their first time doing so since joining the ACC back in 2005. The optimism surrounding that 12-2 start quickly began to dissipate, though, as they went on to lose 12 of their next 13, falling below .500, seemingly destined to suffer their 14th losing season in a row—even with a young coach Jason Kennedy bringing an influx of energy.
Two of those 12 losses came to Virginia Tech and Virginia, but the final stretch of the season gave BC a chance to avenge those tough road losses. On Wednesday, five days after beating the Hokies, the Eagles did the same in a three-set sweep of the visiting Cavaliers, moving a game above .500 entering their final match of the season and securing their first winning season since Andrea Leonard’s second year as head coach back in 2004.
While this modest uptick in performance might not mean much on the surface, the thorough win over visiting UVA (8-20, 4-14 Atlantic Coast) was a fitting response to a five-set heartbreaker in Charlottesville early in the year and was also a milestone win. Two of the last three first-year coaches on the Heights—Nadine Lilavois and Chris Campbell—have gone a combined 21-49 in their debut season, so the fact that Kennedy’s team was able to win at the minimum half their games is a marked improvement. The chance to close the season on a three-game winning streak is there, too, as the Eagles (14-14, 5-12) end their 2018 campaign in South Carolina on Friday night against a Clemson team they beat in straight sets back on Sep. 21.
Wednesday afternoon’s victory, which ran their regular season record at Power Gym to a decent 9-4, was the result of a balanced attack and contributions from up and down the roster. Jewel Strawberry led the way, posting a double-double with 11 kills and 10 digs. Five players finished with seven or more kills, while Jill Strockis added 11 digs and Jane Dejarld coordinated the offense once again with 25 assists.
McKenna Goss had nine kills and Camilla Oemcke had 12 assists in their final home games in a BC uniform, the only two seniors on the team. That fact bodes well for next season, as Power Gym will be home to a group with plenty of depth. Strawberry is only a freshman, while DeJarld and Strockis are both juniors. Outside of Goss, who registered 11 points in the win, seven of the top eight players on the Eagles by points will be returning next year.
In the opening set, the teams played to a tie through eight combined points, but BC used a run midway through to create breathing room. It broke open a one-point game with a 7-0 surge, featuring two kills from Sophie West. The lead didn’t last, however, as UVA came roaring back. A pair of attack errors from BC and four kills by Grace Turner closed the gap to just one. The visiting Cavaliers went on to tie it at 22 apiece, but a kill from West and consecutive attack errors from UVA—the first was blocked by Goss—gave the Eagles a 25-22 win.
The second set was an ugly one for the visitors, as the Cavaliers had a woeful .097 hitting percentage, almost 100 points lower than their season average. BC took advantage, winning the first five points and building an early 8-2 lead on the strength of kills from Goss and Strawberry and an ace from Morrison. A resilient UVA side once again clawed back into it, but unlike the first set, would never draw even. Trailing, 16-13, the Cavaliers committed several errors—they’d finish with seven in the set—and fell behind by eight. That was enough for the Eagles, who let UVA within four but used a Strawberry kill once again to seal a 25-20 win.
The last set saw both teams at their offensive bests, each clearing .410 hitting percentages. Although the Cavaliers would outhit BC by seven percentage points, it was the Eagles who gained a three-kill edge and escaped with the 28-26 set win. Neither side ever had a lead more than two, trading points throughout the entirety of the set and past the 25-point mark. UVA refused to give up in the final few stretches as BC had match points at 24-23, 25-24, and 26-25, but couldn’t convert. Eventually, the fourth time was the charm, with Naughton breaking the 26-all tie with a kill and Goss fittingly sealing the deal with one of her own.
During Campbell’s eight-year tenure, he never eclipsed the 15-win mark, or even recorded a 12-win season. Kennedy is using by and large the same personnel as his predecessor and found vastly different results. It’s clear that the players have bought in, and while a 1-12 stretch in the middle of conference play is exceptionally tough, the team was able to rally late. Losses piled up, yes, but it’s hard to complete a single-season rebuild, and the rematches against VTech and UVA were ways of proving the Eagles can compete. The little victories along the way like securing a winning season for the first time in 2004 are a good way to assess progress, and it’s clear that Kennedy’s bunch could enjoy a true breakout season a year from now.
Featured Image by Tiger Tao / Heights Staff