Memorable comebacks and unlikely heroes fuel Quinnipiac volleyball’s MAAC Quarterfinal victory

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

In an all-time match for the Quinnipiac volleyball program, the No. 6 Bobcats defeated the No. 3 Iona Gaels in the MAAC Quarterfinals in four sets, securing the team’s second-straight berth in the MAAC Semifinals and fourth in program history. 

With this year’s MAAC Tournament being played at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, Quinnipiac head coach Kyle Robinson was vocal about the problems participating schools face when having to travel away from their student bodies to play. 

“The tournament should go to the highest seed,” Robinson said. “I prefer it being some place where we can get a lot of fans and actually have a chance to represent our student body.”

For its quarterfinal round matchup, Quinnipiac was tasked with taking down a familiar foe in Iona. The two teams split the season series with each other, with Iona taking down the Bobcats 3-1 in Hamden on Oct. 8, and Quinnipiac taking down the Gaels 3-1 in New Rochelle, New York on Nov. 6. 

With this all-important rubber match coming at the most important point in the season, Robinson had no other strategy for his team than to have at it.

“Continue that fight and that termination,” Robinson said. “As the season kept going, we kept getting better. We just found that consistency and everything started to click the right way. That’s all we’re looking for is for them to just keep fighting and keep producing.”

And when the match tipped off at 7:30 p.m., the Bobcats kept producing. 

The first set was a grueling, back and forth affair between the squads. While teams were able to go on quick, effective runs, neither side was able to achieve a lead of more than three points. 

Iona was able to work itself to within striking distance of taking the initial set, leading 23-22. However, the Bobcats willed themselves to a  3-0 run, fueled by two kills from freshman hitter Ginevra Giovagnoni, taking the first frame 25-23. 

Giovagnoni, who missed 12 games during the regular season due to injury, saved her breakout performance for when it mattered most. Overall, she racked up 17 kills on .216 hitting, four service aces, 21 digs, and four assists. 

The Bobcats stumbled in the second set. The Gaels jumped out to a quick 7-2 lead after the set’s first nine serves and never looked back, taking the set 25-18 and tying the match up at one set apiece. 

Iona was headlined by its junior hitter Emma Jacobs, who led the team in kills with 15 while also shoveling up 14 digs. The Gaels’ newly-named MAAC Libero of the Year, junior Hope Matschner, flew all over the court, amassing a game-high 40 digs. That total was only three off from her own conference-high of 43 she achieved earlier in the season. 

The third set was much like the first. Both sides were keeping things close, every player scraping for every opportunity they could find. The turning point came late in the set. 

With the Bobcats leading 21-20, Iona was given the benefit of a doubt on a close play at the net, seemingly tying the set at 21. However, Robinson took advantage of his opportunity to challenge the ruling, being rewarded in the process with an overturned call and a 22-20 lead. 

Despite being up 24-20, Quinnipiac allowed Iona to work the score back to 24-23. During the crucial set point, newly-named All-MAAC Rookie setter Damla Gunes delivered a dime to newly-named All-MAAC First Team hitter Aryanah Diaz, who finished off the play with a kill and the set with a win. 

With the legacy she has built since her freshman year at Quinnipiac, Diaz seems to be using this tournament run as a closing argument as to why she is one of the greatest players in the history of the Quinnipiac volleyball program. She finished the match with 14 kills and a team-high 23 digs. 

“She helps me sleep at night,” Robinson said. “She’s a coach’s dream. She can do it all, she doesn’t give us any worries on or off the court and we’re lucky to have her.”

Heading into the fourth set with a two sets to one lead over the Gaels, the Bobcats were certainly hoping for a season-defining moment. But little did they know the journey they would embark on would probably define careers. 

Iona marched valiantly out to a 10-1 lead, leaving all in attendance with the belief that five sets will be played. They would not. 

Trailing by nine, Robinson decided to substitute Gunes for junior setter Chloe Ka’ahanui. From there, it was over. Despite Gunes having 38 assists throughout the contest, the change in personnel was what the team needed. 

After the substitution, the Bobcats went on a 24-7 run to end the set, winning it 25-17, and the match three sets to one. In the match-winning set, Ka’ahanui served up 11 assists, a kill and an ace during match point to win it all. 

In the end, there was nothing but emotion brimming from each and every Quinnipiac player and coach.

“This is one of the best wins I’ve ever been a part of,” Robinson said.

With the win in hand, Quinnipiac will move on to play the No. 7 Rider Broncs in the MAAC Semifinals tomorrow at 2:30 p.m. A rematch of the 2021 MAAC Semifinals, the Bobcats will look for further revenge over the Broncs for last year’s season-ending 3-0 loss. 

Quinnipiac is 2-0 against Rider this season, but with the Broncs coming off a dominant 3-0 upset over No. 2 Marist, nothing should be overlooked with a trip to the MAAC Championship Game on the line.