No. 6 Quinnipiac volleyball pulls off upset in MAAC quarterfinals, but falls to No. 2 Rider in semifinals: Tournament in review and a look at 2022

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Connor Lawless

The Quinnipiac volleyball team entered the MAAC tournament as the No. 6 seed with an 8-9 in-conference record.

Michael LaRocca, Staff Writer

As the women of the Quinnipiac volleyball team walked out of the UHY Center on Nov. 20, they left knowing they put their heart and soul into every moment they spent on that court.

The Bobcats entered the MAAC Tournament on Friday as the No. 6 seed in a field of eight competitive teams. An 8-9 record in conference play was enough for Quinnipiac to secure a date with the No. 3 Marist Red Foxes in the nightcap match of the tournament’s first round.

The outcomes of the day’s earlier matches were not conducive to a Quinnipiac victory. The three matches before the battle between the Bobcats and the Red Foxes were all four-set victories for the higher ranked team, leaving Quinnipiac to either suffer the same fate or be the exception to the rule.

Its performance would certainly be exceptional.

The match was an instant classic, resulting in a back-and-forth victory for the Bobcats, taking all five sets for them to do so. The style of play the Bobcats displayed was the most unselfish it had been all season, allowing each of them to play to their established skills.

Four different Bobcats had 12 or more kills throughout the five sets. Sophomore setter Chloe Ka’ahanui and senior setter Nicole Migliozzi both had 29 assists apiece, and All-MAAC Rookie libero Faavae Kimsel Moe tied junior outside hitter Aryanah Diaz for a team-leading 18 digs.

The match was a battle of momentum for both sides, with the most pivotal shift coming in the fifth set. With Quinnipiac leading 7-5, two straight kills from All-MAAC first team senior middle blocker Nicole Legg sparked a 4-0 run for the Bobcats, giving them an 11-5 lead and leaving the Red Foxes praying for a miracle.

The set would end in a 15-10 Quinnipiac victory, with the final point being killed off by sophomore middle blocker Lexi Morse off of a beautiful feed from Ka’ahanui. Morse epitomized Quinnipiac’s potential. She had an almost flawless match offensively, hitting a match-high percentage of .520 and tying Legg for the most kills with 14.

Morse was not active for Quinnipiac’s last match against Marist, a five-set loss on Nov. 6. Even to the untrained eye, it was easy to see the opportunities Morse adds to the Bobcats’ offensive playbook. Her presence, alongside the elevated play of the entire team, tipped the scales in their favor this time around.

The upset victory for the Bobcats set them up with a matchup in the semifinals of the tournament against the No. 2 Rider Broncs. Rider had Quinnipiac’s number earlier in the year, as the Broncs had defeated the Bobcats twice in the regular season, with both matches ending in four sets. As they had shown the night before, these women would not go down, at least not without a fight.

This match was the premier example of the resolve the Bobcats have shown all season long. Rider would defeat Quinnipiac in straight sets, but in no way were they swift.

The Bobcats had leads such as 13-9 in the first set and 16-10 in the second, but the main difficulty was maintaining those leads. Rider would win those sets 25-23 and 27-25, respectively. Being unable to close out those sets had been understandable for the Bobcats, especially when the opposition had the MAAC kills leader in its starting lineup.

From the very first serve, the match was in the hands of Broncs junior opposite-side hitter, Morgan Romano. Romano was the primary and most effective source of offense for Rider. Her 26 kills in three sets would be a MAAC-wide season high in that stat category, breaking her own previous best of 21 kills in three sets against St. Peter’s on Sept. 25.

Quinnipiac’s source of hope would come from Diaz and freshman hitter Alexandra Tennon, who both led the Bobcats in kills with 14. In this match, Tennon showcased the young talent Quinnipiac has in its future. Her 14 kills would be a season high, smashing her previous best of eight against Niagara on Oct. 24.

The fight within the Bobcats would finally give out at the end of the third set. After mitigating any huge runs by the Broncs throughout the match, Quinnipiac ended up allowing a 5-0 run that gave Rider a 21-18 lead, and then a 4-0 run moments later, which killed off the set 25-20, ending the Bobcats’ season.

“It’s all about growth,” Quinnipiac volleyball coach Kyle Robinson said after the team’s 3-0 win over St. Peter’s on Sept. 18. “If we came in right away and we’re just winning everything, then I’m doing something wrong.”

While Robinson was referring to this season, his sentiment is applicable now more than ever when referring to what fans should expect from Quinnipiac in 2022.

This season graduated six seniors: outside hitter Maggie Baker, libero Daniela Balsano, Legg, Migliozzi, outside hitter Georgia Tselepi and outside hitter Olga Zampati. This is a great loss of production on both sides of the ball, but the returning talent is more than ready to step in.

Players like Diaz, Morse, and Ka’ahanui have already established themselves as crucial members of Robinson’s everyday lineup. Diaz proved this season she is one of the most well-rounded players in the MAAC, leading the team in kills (293), second in digs (339) and third in assists (139), all while never missing a set for the Bobcats. Ka’ahanui will also look to improve in her role as the team’s primary setter next season after leading the team in assists (611).

Freshmen like Kimsel Moe, Tennon, and middle blocker Lizzy Danelski will also have chances to make an impact. Kimsel Moe has already been recognized for her defensive excellence, and Tennon was one of the few players whose growth was clear as the season went on, earning more starting opportunities and even saving her best performance for when the team needed her most. Danelski also showed flashes of her ability to be a menace in front of the net when various absences at the middle blocker spot at certain points in the season forced her to fill in.

After a challenging eight-game season last year due to the pandemic, the 2021 season was exactly what Quinnipiac needed to continue building for its future. Its returning players have seen what is needed of them throughout a full season, and its taste of success in the MAAC tournament should be more than enough motivation for them to come back better. Burt Kahn Court is going to be a special place in September 2022. Be sure to save your seat.