Huskies lose epic five-set match in CAA quarterfinals

Huskies lose epic five-set match in CAA quarterfinals
Third-year libero Gabrielle Eyl dives to keep the point alive in an earlier game / Photo by Patrick Leung

By Tim Foley, news staff

The 2017 season came to an end for Northeastern volleyball Nov. 16, as the Huskies were edged in a five-set thriller against Hofstra University in the quarterfinals of the CAA tournament.

“The match was just an epic battle,” head coach Ken Nichols said. “I don’t think there was a better match between two conference opponents all year long.”

The Huskies (17-13, 10-6 CAA) had about a week to rest and recover after a challenging end to the regular season. The team came out looking refreshed and well-prepared for the CAA tournament, which was hosted by James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia.

Displaying clear control in the first two sets, the Huskies won both by comfortable margins, and appeared to have the Pride (18-14, 9-7 CAA) reeling in the third. But Hofstra mounted a comeback and took a late lead to prevail 25-23.  

“Hofstra made a shift in the third set where they moved their libero to the outside,” Nichols said. “She’s been doing that all year long, kind of half-and-half, and she had a great match.”

In the fourth, the Pride struck early and kept the score close throughout the set. The Northeastern women attempted a late comeback but Hofstra staved it off, winning 25-22 and knotting the match at two sets apiece. Nichols gave credit to Hofstra and said they played extremely well.

“Hofstra decided to serve tougher and tougher,” the coach added. “And, you know, it’s the classic story of, ‘We might as well risk it, because we’re not winning with what we’re doing.’ And they started to get us a little further and further out of system.”

The Pride held match point in the decisive fifth set, but the Northeastern women were able to benefit from two Hofstra errors and tie the score at 14. With the tournament lives of both teams on the line, they battled back and forth. The Huskies held two separate match points but were not able to finish.

A kill from second-year outside hitter Amy Underdown tied the score at 19, keeping Northeastern’s chances alive. But the Pride responded, running off two points in a row and ending the match on a kill. The 21-19 loss brought an end to the Huskies’ season.

“Maybe twice in my career I’ve gotten into the 20s in the fifth set,” Nichols said. “There were a lot of really dramatic plays — it was really tough to officiate because there was a lot of strange stuff going on… It was just one of those really great, crowd pleasing, incredible matchups… but ultimately they were able to string together two points more than we were.”

Underdown led all attackers with 25 kills in the match. The Temecula, California native is one of four starters who will be back again next season. One notable advantage will be the return of first-year setter Samantha Shupe, who split time with captain Kristen Walding this season.

Walding, outside hitter Brigitte Burcescu and middle blocker Carmen Costa will be graduating after finishing their fourth season with the team. But Nichols is optimistic about next year’s lineup.

“I’m just elated with where we’re headed,” Nichols said. “It’s a very like-minded group.”

The Huskies look forward to having third-years Taylor Reiter (redshirt) and Laynie Whitehead restored to health and back on the court. The two will be part of a group of five fourth-years that are expected to be on next season’s roster.

As for the next steps, the Huskies were already back out on the practice court this week. Nichols said the team will focus on vertical leap and shoulder stability, and working to amp up a culture of training.

“I was very proud of the team — they genuinely left it all out there,” he said. “To the extent that we can foster a greater sense of courage and development, that’s really our focus as we move forward.”  

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