After 15 years of high hopes and dreary outcomes, Boston College women’s volleyball has once again reached the 20-win milestone, a landmark it hasn’t reached since 2004. The team has seldom accomplished much in that time period, and much of this year’s success can be attributed to the efforts made by head coach Jason Kennedy, who has turned the team around in his two years on the Heights.
The Eagles entered their final match of the season with high expectations, hoping to close out the regular season by tying the program record for season wins and setting the record for conference wins. And in a back-and-forth match against North Carolina State—whom BC had already taken down earlier in the season—the Eagles were ready to do just that.
In a match earlier this season, BC (20-11, 10-7 Atlantic Coast) fought N.C. State (11-18, 6-11) in a five-set thriller. The Eagles had won the first two sets, poised to sweep the Wolfpack in just three, but the opposing team wasn’t ready to lose so easily on its home turf. N.C. State rallied to bring the match to a fifth set, but sophomore Jewel Strawberry delivered the decisive kill, allowing BC to take home the win.
Saturday’s game told a similar story. BC collected the first point before N.C. State quickly fired back with a kill of its own, tying it up at one. And yet, it quickly became clear that the Eagles were the superior team, winning two to three points for every one that the Wolfpack earned. Soon, BC was up 10-4 over the visiting team, and it started to become a mental game for N.C. State.
While the Wolfpack was able to slightly decrease its deficit, the Eagles had already gained their momentum, and they ran away with the first set. Junior Amaka Chukwujekwu and senior Cat Balido combined for a block, bringing BC out on top, 25-18.
Following their first set victory, the Eagles would have liked to take a similar lead as their last match against the Wolfpack, leading them to an easy win on their senior day. But despite BC’s best efforts, N.C. State was not as easily stirred in Chestnut Hill as it was at home in Raleigh. The first set win was crucial, but as previous matches have proven, an early lead is not a guaranteed victory.
Unlike the first set, it was the Wolfpack that took an early lead in the second. N.C. State, despite its ability to quickly gain points, was having much more difficulty maintaining a large lead over the Eagles. And, as such, the play in this set was more back and forth, allowing BC a chance at rallying and coming back from its deficits.
While the home team earned a brief lead halfway through the set, a nine-point run by the Wolfpack solidly separated the two teams, preventing any comeback the Eagles tried to orchestrate. Just a few points later, N.C. State secured the second set, 25-18.
The Eagles came back from the brief intermission revitalized and determined to prevail over the Wolfpack in the third set. But a quick run by the opposition prevented that, forcing BC to fight back from an early 5-0 deficit. Somehow, the Eagles not only came back from that deficit, but they were also able to procure their own lead, with a seven-point run of their own.
But despite this brief lead for the Eagles, the Wolfpack kept fighting, and with a six-point run of their own, N.C. State forced yet another lead change. The two teams fought for possession midway through the set, but N.C. State was not so quick to give away its advantage. Despite the Eagles’ hard work, the Wolfpack finally came out on top, winning set three 25-19.
At this point, if the Eagles were going to win the match—and tie the program record for victories in a single season—they had to rally to win in the fifth set. So, down by a set going into the fourth, the Eagles got to work.
For a team that was fighting for its life in the fourth set, the Eagles were never truly in control of the play. The Wolfpack once more got ahead early in the set before running away with a couple of points. From there, it was a catch-up game for BC, who was fighting to tie up the set before giving away possession to N.C. State. The Eagles capped it off on a 6-0 run to finish the set, but until that point, the Wolfpack controlled the play. Regardless, BC secured the fourth set, 25-20.
The tight victory by BC in the fourth set may have tied up the match, but now it was anyone’s game.
The fifth set began like a broken record, as N.C. State gained the first point and first lead of the set. Despite this disadvantage, the Eagles were resilient, quickly tying up the set and staying with the Wolfpack, matching the opposition point for point as best they could. A late three-point run put BC above N.C. State 14-12, ready to secure its final victory of the season.
Similarly to the matchup back in October, it was Strawberry that delivered the final blow on N.C. State. After losing the first match point to a resilient Wolfpack, the Eagles were determined to close out their season on a high note.
With a brief back and forth that left both teams scrambling across the court to keep the ball off the ground, the Eagles set up their star hitter to win it all. And with a short tap over the net, Strawberry completed the final kill of the set, once again finishing off the Wolfpack.
In an incredible second season by Kennedy, there’s much for the whole team to be proud of. The Eagles have proven to be incredibly resilient this year, particularly by not giving up in the face of a 2-1 deficit. And of course, the Eagles enter the postseason on a high note after tying the program record in all-time wins.
Featured Image by Ikram Ali / Heights Editor