Disney dreaming: Quinnipiac volleyball rides hot streak to Orlando for MAAC Tournament


Peyton McKenzie

Quinnipiac volleyball finished the regular season with an 11-14 overall record and 10-8 in-conference.

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

 What a back half of the season it has been for Quinnipiac volleyball. I certainly can’t say I was expecting that type of turnaround.

Last time I wrote about the state of this team on Oct. 11, the Bobcats were sitting at eighth place in the MAAC with a 2-6 record. Morale was extremely hard to find at that time.

“I would like to see more,” head coach Kyle Robinson said after the team’s win over Manhattan on Oct. 9. “That’s just who I am as a coach, as a person. If we have the capacity to be better, then we should give more. We should be better. We should be working to be as close to perfect as possible.”

Since then, the Bobcats have been as perfect as they could be, going on the second-most successful stretch in program history since joining Division I in 2000. After bottoming out at 2-7 in the MAAC following a 3-1 loss to Siena on Oct. 12, Quinnipiac went 8-1 to end the regular season. That span included two separate four-match winning streaks with a loss to first-place Fairfield in straight sets in between. The most successful stretch was when the 2016 team went 9-1 during a 10 match span, including a seven-match winning streak.

With a 10-8 record within the conference at the end of the regular season, the Bobcats clinched a first-round bye in the MAAC Tournament, nestling themselves comfortably into the sixth seed. They will now be preparing to face off against No. 3 Iona in the quarterfinals at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday.

In my last column, I explained that despite the poor record, the team proved they are overflowing with talent, it just needed to learn how to finish sets and matches. Prior to the 8-1 stretch, the Bobcats struggled in close sets, but during it, they have found ways to both win them and prevent them from happening.

Part of this improvement has been the team finally being completely healthy.

After missing 12 matches due to an abdominal injury, freshman hitter Ginevra Giovagnoni made her return on Oct. 29, against Fairfield where she played minimally. She made her full return against Iona on Nov. 11, notching 11 kills and 16 digs without skipping a beat. The Montale Rangone, Italy, native also got 11 kills against Rider on Nov. 13, this time on .417 hitting percentage, her best mark of the season.

Fellow freshman hitter Yagmur Gunes also found her true groove offensively, seemingly beating the shoulder injury that plagued her through the middle of the season. She reached a career-high in kills with 10 against Manhattan on Nov. 5, a team best.

Now that the freshman pairing is fully healthy, the Bobcats’ offense has two more weapons to play with in the tournament alongside senior hitter Aryanah Diaz, sophomore hitter Alexandra Tennon and graduate student middle blocker Nicole Legg.

Heading into the MAAC Quarterfinals on Thursday, there is a lot for the team to consider, both on and off the court. On the court, Robinson believes that his team is as ready as they’ll ever be.

“Not to toot my own horn, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job at getting everyone on the team prepared,” Robinson said. “You can’t cover every possibility. I’m not perfect, but we’ve done a really nice job getting athletes reps and putting them in tough positions to learn how to succeed at a high level.”

However, with the tournament being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, there is potential for the team to bond as a unit, but there is also potential for distractions.

“I think it’s cool to do these fun and exciting things with this new group,” Robinson said. “But as far as the tournament is concerned, I’m not sure I’m so thrilled because there’s just way too many random things going on instead of it being focused solely on the student athletes and the volleyball.”

This moment in the season has been something that the team has been looking forward to since September.

“We think about it constantly,” Tennon said on Sept. 30. “Coach says, ‘Everything is a build up to the end of the season. So we don’t want to be at our peak now, we want to be at our peak at the end of the season.’ I feel like we’re just constantly building up through that and battling all that adversity to get there.”

This team has certainly battled through adversity this season and came out on top.

“We understand the long game, the big picture,” Robinson said after the team’s road loss to Fairfield on Oct. 1. “You want to be in the playoffs competing for a championship, which we will this year. Everyone’s in, everyone’s going to Disney, but we’re finally ready to win a championship.”

At that moment, what Robinson said seemed preposterous. I could not understand how this team could be at all ready to even think about a title in a conference with teams like Fairfield and Marist. However, now I can see where he’s coming from.

This squad is one of the MAAC’s hottest teams at the moment. With players on the roster like Diaz, Legg, Giovagnoni and likely All-MAAC Rookie Team setter Damla Gunes, among the rest of the talent they boast, there is nothing they can’t accomplish.

The big picture that Robinson spoke about at the beginning of the season is starting to come into focus.