By Adam Duke
After being swept in three straight matches, the Griffs volleyball team seeks three big victories this week in order to bump the team up in the MAAC standings.
Two weeks ago, the team split matches against the St. Peter’s Peacocks and the Rider Broncs, defeating the Peacocks in four sets and falling to the Broncs in three. Last week, they were swept by both the second place Quinnipiac Bobcats and the first place Fairfield Stags in the absences of Katlyn Tyler and Alexandra Brown. They will look to rebound, taking on Manhattan, Iona and Niagara within the coming week.
“The keys to rebound right now are pursuit and finish. Those have been the words during practice,” said Coach Lenika Vazquez. “It’s also a continued theme, it’s not a brand new theme. It’s a matter of us executing.” Vazquez was very adamant about the communication and the finish of her team.
“When it’s crunch time, we need to use our volleyball IQs to finish plays. Right now, at moments, we let adrenaline take control and we tend to err,” Vazquez continued, “During those times, we need to find an open court, remember the scout and the opponent’s’ weaknesses so that we can take advantage of it.”
Offensively, the Griffs kept each set close in the early goings, but failed to hold on, and were ultimately outplayed by their opponents toward the end of each set. Against the Bobcats, the blue and gold were led in kills by Gabrielle Darnaby, with 10. Sara Wesley led in attack percentage, with a .400, attaining eight kills on 15 attempts. Against the Stags, the Griffs struggled a bit more. Jacklyn Malusa led the offense with six kills.
“We have a lot of work to do,” said Malusa. “We need to work on finishing the ball and in practices this week, we’ve really practiced that. It’s going to be good for our next games ahead.”
Defensively, outside hitters Darnaby and Carly Shifflet put up nine digs apiece against the Bobcats. Facing the Stags, the pair earned 11 and 10 digs, respectively. Shifflet also played libero for a portion of the match. “Carly provided a spark for the team when it was much needed,” said Vazquez in a postgame interview with gogriffs.com.
“I realized going from high school play into college play that the defense aspect of the game is definitely a lot more intense,” said Shifflet. “I realized that the defensive part is something I like more than the offensive part of volleyball.”
The team is also eager to retake their home court. “We’re really excited to get our home advantage back,” said Malusa. “We’re working hard in practice, doing everything we need to do, practicing for who we’re playing, and hopefully it’s going to show.”
“Even as a more mental aspect of the game, it’s good because you want to play better,” added Shifflet. “You’re on your home court. You don’t want to lose on your home court. It’s your property in a sense and you don’t want someone to take that from you, so you tend to play better.”
Part of Vazquez’s unique coaching style includes allowing the players to lead themselves. She wants to encourage mid-set communication between the team members. “I have a leadership council, so right now, the leaders are talking to them about more effective communication as far as us reaching our goals during a match,” she said, “I want that to be led by them because I get two timeouts and the rest of the communication has to be between them. I gave them some good ideas and now they will make it happen. I have faith.”
“When it’s crunch time, we need to use our volleyball IQs to finish plays,” Vazquez continued. “Right now, at moments, we let adrenaline take control and we tend to err. During those times, we need to find an open court, remember the scout and the opponent’s’ weaknesses so that we can take advantage of it.”
With two wins this weekend, the Griffs have the potential to move into a tie for fourth place, providing Niagara and Siena each lose both of their respective contests and Marist defeats Rider. The weekend is the most important thus far, as the team attempts to bounce back.
“Right now, we’re not doing as well as we hoped to,” stated Shifflet, “If we can turn it around as fast as we can and happen to win these games this weekend, it will really turn the season around and uplift everyone’s spirits.”
This Thursday’s game, against rival Niagara, marks the halfway point of the season. “Moving forward, I have decided that I need to help them develop their leadership and communication more. It needs to come from them and less from me,” said Vazquez, “That is the direction I’m going in. It’s not a new message, but I’m going to try different ways to make it happen.”