Volleyball Rolls Out New Offense In Weekend Tournament

Ryan Jones, Sports Editor

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Moving quickly but coordinated, Central Connecticut volleyball’s offense was clicking in the UConn Challenge Tournament. Despite looking like an experienced pack, CCSU was implementing a brand new offense learned just that week, using it in-game for the very first time. The new-look Blue Devils walked out of the tournament with one win in three matches, but looked to be primed for the upcoming Northeast Conference part of the schedule.

The first of CCSU’s games – played at UConn’s Gampel Pavilion – was against the Boston College Eagles. The Eagles, who were headlined by the tournament’s MVP Amaka Chukwujekwu, proved to be the toughest of the three opponents CCSU faced.

CCSU fell behind early in the first set and were only able to draw within four as the Eagles quickly jumped out to a 1-0 set lead over the Blue Devils.

After a shaky first set, the Blue Devils came to play in the second. With both teams knotted at three, the Blue Devils snapped off a 7-1 run to take an early lead. Senior Madelyn Kaprelyan picked up four kills in the set as Central pulled away with a 25-20 set victory. Kaprelyan would finish the game with 10 kills, 19 assists and 13 digs, her first triple-double of the season.

The third set saw the Blue Devils trail by as much as 14 as they dropped the go ahead set. As head coach Linda Sagnelli noted, this team is not one to give up. Primed to play spoiler in the fourth, the Blue Devils had the set all but decided leading 20-15. The Eagles stormed back, however and battled with the Blue Devils to the last point. With neither team letting up, Boston College was able to pull away with a 29-27 set victory, securing the match win.

“I thought we did a lot of good things,” Sagnelli said. “We introduced a faster paced offense this week and even though we didn’t come away with a win this morning, I was very happy with some of the things I saw.”

One positive note was the play of libero Ashlyn Eisenga. She had a career high 27 digs for the Blue Devils against the Eagles and was named to the All-Tournament Team.

“She touches everything that comes her way,” Sagnelli said. “She’s a hard nose volleyball player. She doesn’t care where the ball is, she’s just gonna go get it.. she’s just an incredibly heads up player that’s going to keep the ball off the floor on our side.”

In their second game of the day, Sagnelli’s Blue Devils matched up with her coaching alma matter Iona in a game that saw a laser-focused CCSU team.

The Blue Devils were perfect in the first set, not committing a single error while forcing nine on the Gaels. The opening set was not a runaway at first, however. With the game tied at seven a piece, freshman Molly Pincince entered the game to serve for the Blue Devils. She served on five consecutive Blue Devil points as they ran away with the first set.

“Coming into the first two weekends of the season, we are giving chances to people to get onto the court,” said Sagnelli. ” Molly is a really big positive for the team, you don’t expect that from a freshman, especially not in the second weekend.”

The increasingly better play from the younger players on the team helped craft a team that is incredibly deep at multiple positions. To the Blue Devils coach, this makes the team stronger.

“I told them in the locker room,” Sagnelli said. “We’re a team of 15 and 1 through 15 has to be accountable to each other and ourselves.”

The Blue Devils continued to dominate the Gaels and won the next two sets by 11 and seven respectively. Samantha McCreath posted a double-double for CCSU with her 13 kills and 10 digs, while senior Erin McDermott led the way distributing the ball with 22 assists on the day.

Central Connecticut’s lone match on Saturday saw a face off between inter-state rivals in the UConn Challenge’s namesake. The Huskies have outplayed the Blue Devils in many of their previous matches, holding an all-time 24-7 record over CCSU (per CCSU Athletics).

The Huskies quickly stretched an early lead in the first set over the Blue Devils. 10 errors and a hitting percentage of -.051 made the lead insurmountable for CCSU, as they lost 25-12.

Central Connecticut played like a different team in the second set. The team moved as one unit as opposed to six players, getting to every ball and controlling the pace of the game. They forced a match low .163 hitting percentage from UConn while posted a .227 percentage for themselves, their best in the game. Junior Emma Henderson scored six kills for the Blue Devils and also had a service ace in the set as they narrowly took the second set 25-23.

The third set seemed reminiscent of the first, as the Huskies were able to churn out a sizable lead on the Blue Devils in the blink of an eye. The Huskies led by as much as 10 as they secured their second set victory.

Freshman Isabelle Roufs gave the Blue Devils a one point advantage over the Huskies early in the fourth set. The Huskies quickly answered back with a strong run to regain and extend their lead, defeating the Blue Devils 25-15 in the set to win the match.

“We couldn’t get out of our own way today,” Sagnelli said. “Was just a collection of mental errors and we’d rather be collecting points. Kudos to where it is deserved, UConn is a very tough team, but I thought we should have competed a lot better.”

The Blue Devils showed a fast-paced and exciting offense and their chemistry on the court made the transition to the new scheme seem second nature.

“We want to say this is how we play, and here’s the ball,” Sagnelli said on the new offense.

She reiterated the importance of the learning process and that her players, “have to understand that it’s okay to take risks, it’s okay to take chances and mistakes are going to happen. That’s a part of the game. It’s the aggressiveness that we really want to see, and I’m really proud of the team.”

The Blue Devils will have the chance to further adjust to their new scheme this weekend, as they host the CCSU Invitational Tournament on Friday and Saturday.