Owls Capture NE10 Title, Await NCAA Field


Matt GadContributor

For the first time in program history the Owls have secured the Northeast-10 Volleyball Championship with their 3-0 win over American International.

 

They entered competition last week as the tournament’s number four seed, defeating fifth-seeded Southern New Hampshire in three sets in the quarterfinals, their 13th victory inside Pelz Gymnasium this season, before beating No. 8 Saint Anselm in last Friday’s semifinals and then the No. 3-seeded Yellow Jackets the next night in the conference championship game.

“I’m through the moon so proud of this team,” head coach Lisa Barbaro said. “I keep saying that but I don’t know what else to say; they just have really, really come together. There was an early point in the season where it was questionable but I always believed. I knew we had the talent.”

The Owls, who went to their first ever NCAA Tournament last year after appearing in the NE10 Championship, losing in five sets to New Haven, suffered two seperate three-game losing streaks this season and lost four of their first seven games of the regular-season.

“The biggest thing about this team is that we have a lot of contributors. We don’t ride on one or two kids,” Barbaro said. “At different moments a lot of people stepped up … Kylie Fisher on serve, Kailyn O’Neal just an unbelievable job — she’s improved so much. I could go through the whole team.”

Junior outside hitter Gabriela Vazquez had 13 kills and three blocks, sophomore middle blocker and right side hitter Kirstin Colwell had four kills and four blocks, senior co-captain and outside hitter Leanna Jadus had eight kills, a block and an ace and another senior co-captain, middle blocker Alyssa Gage, named the NE10 Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, finished with a team-high 14 kills.

“We peaked at the right time,” Gage said. “We had all the tools the whole time but we just didn’t know how to utilize them all. When we finally figured out what to do we started doing really well and we won games that were really tough for us.”

The “tools” Gage described included the efforts from freshman Kailyn O’Neal, who had 31 assists in the championship and has been a force for the Owls all season long.

“She put a lot of weight on her shoulders and she did carry us as a freshman,” Gage said. “I give her props because she did it elegantly and she did really well.”

The tournament was slated to be hosted at the University of New Haven but the No. 1-seeded Chargers lost their second conference game all year when they were stunned in just three sets by Saint Anselm so Adelphi, the two, took over, however, they lost themselves in the semifinals to American International.

“We’re Northeast-10 champions and this feels great,” Barbaro said. “We automatically get an NCAA bid. Next week we’ll be in the NCAA Tournament — we’ll see who’s gonna host and what seed we get and then whoever we’re matched up with we’re ready to go. We’ve been a hot team and we’re just gonna keep this thing rolling — onto the next tournament.”

Jadus, who’s been highly decorated in her years with the Owls so far, was one of several student-athletes who also made key contributions during last year’s historic NCAA run, the first ever.

“From my freshman year we were just like bottom of the conference, getting blown out by teams and now it’s like all this hard work has paid off. It feels really great that we’re all coming together and it was awesome.”

The Owls, who went 1-1 in last year’s NCAA Tournament, highlighted by a first-round victory over New York Tech for their first ever win, are seeded seventh and will face No. 2 Adelphi Thursday at 2:30 p.m. on the campus of the University of New Haven, the hosts for the second year in a row.

The squad will need to win three games at the East Regional this weekend to advance to the final stage quarterfinals, which begin Nov. 29 in Pittsburgh, Pa. and are part of the 11th Division II Championships Festival.

Photo Credit: SCSU Athletic Communications

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