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Getting past growing pains: UB volleyball team shows improvement in opening games of the season

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Last season, UB women’s volleyball (2-1) started the year on a 12-game losing streak, went 4-25 and ended up last in the MAC. The team failed to impress throughout the season, never having a single winning streak.

It only took the first two games this season for the team to impress, starting the year on back-to-back wins.

The Bulls fell victim to growing pains a year ago, bringing in both many freshmen and being forced to play after losing their veteran players. One year later the Bulls are no longer a team of freshmen – they are a team better prepared for the season.

And their game results show that.

“We worked a lot on defense over the spring and the whole experience brought us closer together,” said sophomore setter Scout McLerran. “Now it is way easier to pick each other up and move forward.”

McLerran enters her second season as team captain, having been promoted shortly after her arrival. She showcased her role as team leader during Tuesday’s practice, where she held her own personal players meeting, gathering at the net at the end of practice. Each time the team practices, McLerran sees them grow, which she credits to the bond they now have.

“We are a family a lot more this year,” McLerran said.

McLerran sights the lack of bond between teammates being a big reason for the lack of success last season. Now, both players and coaches see a stronger foundation to begin the season.

“Them being on the same wavelength out of the gym has transferred over to what they do on the court and it has been really awesome to watch,” said head coach Blair Lipsitz.

At practice on Tuesday, Lipsitz called attention to specific areas of play for the team, stressing the improvement they needed for blocking in front of the net and on ball control. For Lipsitz, these specific critiques add to the progress the team has made.

“This team is full of players who still have plenty of space to improve,” Lipsitz said. “This is a very coachable bunch and that is why you can see them keep getting better. They are open to the critiques we have.”

Lipsitz enters her third season as head coach with a team of players she brought in herself. Now those previous seasons of recruiting are starting to pay off.

“Everyone we have brought in shows signs of playing at a very high level, and that is why I think after sometime we are seeing these improvements,” Lipsitz said.

One key recruit this season is sophomore outside hitter Polina Prokudina, who spent her freshman year at Syracuse University before transferring to UB in June.

In her native country, Prokudina was on the 2015 Russian Country Championship-winning team. Now with more playing time available, Prokudina has made a noticable impact on the team, already having recorded a 27-kill game this season.

“Coming here has been great. With the playtime I have I am giving a real opportunity to show my skills and be around great coaches with such great experience,” Prokudina said. “So many players have been very inviting and I already feel like I am a part of this team.”

Prokudina was one of several new additions to the team during the offseason, all of which have impressed McLerran early in the season.

The Bulls will need to continue to impress, as they face tough competition this weekend in back-to-back road games against the Seton Hall Pirates (2-1) and the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (2-1).

“I am expecting some very good teams this weekend. Those are teams from the Big East and Big 12 which are impressive conferences, and [what] we want is to see if we can play with these teams,” Lipsitz said.

The Bulls play Friday against the Pirates at 7 p.m. and at 11 a.m. on Saturday against the Scarlet Knights.

Thomas Zafonte is a co-senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com.


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