Volleyball wins NE10 Tournament for first time in program history
Matt Gad – Contributor
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 14th victory inside Pelz Gymnasium. The Owls then traveled to Adelphi University, the host for the semifinals as the highest seed remaining, and defeated No. 8 Saint Anselm in last Friday’s semifinals. The conference championship game against the No. 3-seeded Yellow Jackets came in the next night.
“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 went to their first ever NCAA Tournament last year after appearing in the NE10 Championship game, losing in five sets to New Haven. This year, they suffered two separate three- game losing streaks 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,” Barbaro said. “We don’t ride on one or two kids. 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 while 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 while 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.
“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 in three sets to Saint Anselm. Adelphi, the two-seed, lost 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 was named First-Team All-Conference for the second straight year, helped the Owls to a first round NCAA Tournament win against NYIT, their first NCAA Tournament appearance 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,” Jadus said. “It feels really great that we’re all coming together and it was awesome.”
The Owls 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 begins Nov. 29 in Pittsburgh, Pa and are part of the 11th Division II Championships Festival.
Photo Credit: Southernctowls.com