Volleyball ends regular season with loss to James Madison

Volleyball ends regular season with loss to James Madison
Setter Kristin Walding lifts the ball for her teammate in an earlier game / Photo courtesy Jim Pierce, Northeastern Athletics

By Tim Foley, news staff

Northeastern volleyball fell in three sets to James Madison University Friday, finishing out the regular season in fourth place in the CAA.

The first round of the CAA tournament will take place Thursday, and the Huskies (17-12, 10-6 CAA) will have to try to turn around their three-game losing streak as they take on Hofstra University.

“I think our team was better prepared because of the rigors of our schedule. And then we ended up with a target on our backs,” head coach Ken Nichols said. “We genuinely felt everybody gunning for us.”

The Huskies got off to an 8-0 start for the CAA season but struggled the second time around in conference, only managing two wins in the final eight matches. Friday’s loss against James Madison dashed any hopes of securing a bye for the tournament.

Northeastern kept it close early in the first set. The Dukes (20-5, 11-5 CAA) began to pull ahead, but a string of five combined kills from first-year middle blocker Gabrielle Tschannen and second-year outside hitter Amy Underdown helped to tie the score at 19.

At 20-20, the Huskies committed four consecutive errors to give the Dukes control of the set. A service ace made it 25-20, and James Madison took a 1-0 advantage in the match.

Part of the challenge on Friday was only having one day to recover from Wednesday’s match against Hofstra. But setter Kristen Walding refused to attribute the loss to this unfortunate twist in scheduling.

“Fatigue was definitely present, but we really can’t use fatigue as an excuse going into the tournament,” the fourth-year captain from Deer Park, Illinois, said. “As a team we don’t want to make any excuses.”

The James Madison women staked their claim on the second set about midway through, building an 18-13 lead. Though the Huskies generated 12 kills as a team, they struggled with attack errors and could not narrow the deficit, losing 25-18.

In the third, the Huskies were only able to put up 12 points. The Dukes pounded 10 kills and reaped the benefits of three Northeastern service errors, winning the set to complete the straight-set victory.

Service game was a primary problem for the Huskies on Friday, as they suffered 10 errors and were unable to deliver a single ace.

“It’s interesting how serving is tied together, because when we’re missing serves, it empowers the other team,” Nichols said. “So they can go high risk, they can take bigger chances.”

This was the fourth year in a row in which Northeastern ended the regular season with three straight losses. But like last year, the team will again have a chance at redemption in the CAA tournament.

“Let me try the Bill Belichick model — last year was last year. We talked about last year,” Nichols said. “Now, if I was really Bill Belichick, I wouldn’t say another word about it… The point is, each year is different. To the extent that there’s a taste of this two years in a row — nobody is happy with it… but I think they’ve done very well at making the most of it this year.”

Walding echoed her coach’s sentiment about leaving the past behind, saying that the team will employ a 0-0 mentality going into the postseason.

“Having gone to the tournament last year, we understand that the atmosphere is different,” Walding added. “There is more energy and more pressure. [The seniors] have been telling the younger players to not put too much pressure on themselves or on the team… We want to stay composed.”

The Huskies will travel back to James Madison’s court, where the CAA Tournament will be hosted this year, for Thursday’s first-round match against Hofstra.

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