Taking the Stags by the horns: Quinnipiac volleyball wins first-ever conference title


Quinnipiac Athletics

The Quinnipiac Bobcats volleyball program won their first-ever conference championship on Saturday, beating Fairfield 3-1.

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

In a thrilling upset, No. 6 Quinnipiac volleyball took down the No. 1 Fairfield Stags in the MAAC Championship game in four sets (26-24, 17-25, 25-22, 25-17) on Saturday to win its first conference title in program history. 

Saturday’s matchup in Orlando, Florida, was Quinnipiac’s third-ever appearance in the MAAC title bout, with the previous two times being losses to the Stags in 2016 and 2019. The Bobcats were also 0-2 against Fairfield this season, being swept off the court by the Stags in Fairfield on Oct. 1, as well as in Hamden on Oct. 29. In both respects, the third time was the charm. 

The Bobcats were shot out of a cannon to start the first set. Both sides dueled all set long, with neither holding more than a two-point lead until Quinnipiac freshman hitter Yagmur Gunes served up an ace past the Fairfield defense to make the score 22-19 Bobcats. 

The Stags later battled back to tie the set at 24, but back-to-back kills from junior middle blocker Lexi Morse and senior hitter Aryanah Diaz closed out the set 26-24, giving the Bobcats a one set to none lead. Morse saved her best performance of the season for when it mattered the most, racking up 13 kills on a team-high .429 hitting and four total blocks. 

If the first set made the Stags seem human, the second set showed why they have won seven of the past 10 MAAC volleyball championships. The sheer height of the Fairfield front line was Quinnipiac’s kryptonite, forcing the Bobcats into 11 attack errors, as well as blocking three more attempts at the net. 

The Bobcats possesed an 8-4 lead in the second set, but an 8-0 run by the Stags put them ahead. They did not relent, taking the set 25-17 and tying the match at one set apiece. 

“We started off hot, but then we lost the fight in us,” Quinnipiac head coach Kyle Robinson said to the ESPN+ broadcast team after the second set. “As long as we get back to fighting, we should be fine.”

The third set was certainly a fight, much like the first set. Neither team was able to hold a lead for very long, the momentum swinging back and forth like a pendulum. 

Late in the set, with the score tied at 22, the Bobcats were able to go on their most crucial 3-0 run of the season. 

It started off with freshman setter Damla Gunes feeding a powerful kill from graduate student middle blocker Nicole Legg to make the score 23-22. The very next serve, Damla Gunes found freshman hitter Ginerva Giovagnoni, who fired a rocket into the teeth of the Fairfield defense, making it a set point. 

During the crucial set point, the Bobcats’ defense was faced with a hit from Fairfield’s MAAC Player of the Year and senior outside hitter KJ Johnson. With the Johnson shot flying her way, Quinnipiac sophomore libero Faavae Kimsel Moe made an excellent read and let it go out of bounds, giving the Bobcats a third-set victory 25-22. 

With a chance to clinch the title in the fourth set, the Bobcats sprinted out to a 6-0 lead, forcing Fairfield head coach Todd Kress to burn both of his timeouts before the fans in attendance could even blink. 

The Stags tried to come back, but never truly came close, as the Bobcats cruised to a 25-17 victory in the deciding set, with the championship point being a kill from Legg, the biggest of her life. The four-set victory for the Bobcats handed the Stags their first loss in the MAAC Championship game since they fell in four sets to Niagara in 2011. 

In the match, the Bobcats were able to match the most kills they have gotten in four sets all season long (Sept. 17, at Niagara), with five Quinnipiac players reaching double digits and two achieving double-doubles. With that offensive firepower, they were able to get it done.

“Day one, I knew we had the crew that could get it done,” Robinson said to the ESPN+ broadcast team after the match. “I knew this team that we assembled was the right fit. I’m so proud of them, so thankful for everything they gave to the program. I couldn’t say enough about all of them”

After the match, the MAAC honored Giovagnoni and Damla Gunes by naming them to the All-Championship Team. Giovagnoni had 47 kills and 45 digs in three tournament matches, and Gunes dished up 122 assists in the tournament, including 48 assists against Fairfield today. 

Even greater than the All-Championship Team, Diaz was named the MAAC Tournament’s Most Valuable Player for her 36 kills, four aces, 40 digs and seven total blocks across the three matches she played. 

After it was all over, the team made sure to honor their teammate, senior hitter Alisa Mejia, who did not travel with the team to Orlando in order to recover from an ankle injury she suffered on Nov. 5.

And now, the team will look forward to playing in its first-ever NCAA Volleyball Tournament, which is set to begin on Dec. 1. Quinnipiac’s opponent will be determined in the tournament’s selection show on Nov. 27, but for now the Bobcats can take solace in knowing they won Quinnipiac’s fourth conference championship of the fall sports season.