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UB Volleyball: humble and hungry

Volleyball team looks to make program history as MAC conference play approaches

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This time last year the Bulls (5-3) were suffering from an eight-game losing streak, a roster almost entirely made of freshmen and on their way to another poor season in the history books.

One year later, the Bulls have completely flipped the script. With wins over big conference teams like the Rutgers Scarlet Knights (3-6) and the Georgetown Hoyas (7-5), the team has moved passed the problems of last season, having already won more games than they did last year in the first eight outings. Now with non-conference games coming to an end this weekend, the team seems primed for a great run in MAC play.

“We want to be big dogs in the MAC,” said sophomore libero Hannah Watson. “We want to be dominate and we want to make history here for the UB volleyball program.”

The Bulls have a rough history when it comes to the MAC, having never won a MAC championship and never doing better than 6-10 in conference. The Bulls have never won more than 20 games in a season during their time in the MAC.

Now the Bulls are looking to succeed and set the team up for future success.

“The MAC championship is always the goal, but we want to change the culture of the program, the tradition and the character for generations to come,” Watson said.

The change in mentality has come through for the Bulls early this season having already pulled out several close games. Watson sees the changes the team has implemented and knows it will translate into more success.

“I’ve seen this team fight and learn from wins and the loses,” Watson said. “Those big wins show us our potential as a team, as players, and it shows us that any team is beatable with grit, heart and focus.”

Much of that character is built around the team's chemistry and friendships made during the team's first year together. They have built confidence in recent weeks, but remain humble as they know it is key for future success.

Even with their MAC aspirations high, the team still has their last non-conference road tournament of the season this weekend. With games against the Mercer Bears (4-4), the Appalachian State Mountaineers (4-7) and the College of Charleston Cougars (7-3) scheduled, the Bulls have a chance to make a statement.

“You can never underestimate your opponent but we come out wanting to win, this weekend we are looking to get the clean sweep,” said junior middle blocker Megan Wernette.

Goals like these are a far cry from the 1-12 non-conference record the Bulls had last year, and the many sub-10 win seasons of years passed. However, this squad is looking to change the Bulls’ troubled history with success.

Rewriting this history starts with accomplishments the Bulls always have on their minds.
“This is a very exciting team and I think they have goals set for this season, I think the best goal to have is to improve every day and that's what we have been focusing on,” said head coach Blair Lipsitz.

That focus is shared by every player I have interviewed this season, as all of them have mentioned the constant need to improve as their main goal. Not a single player even considers the idea that they may have finally finished growing as a team. They have a shared focus that seems to play into the team's on-court chemistry as each player is just as interested in her fellow Bulls’ improvement as her own.

The whole coaching staff stresses the need for improvement on all levels in practice. As a coach, Lipsitz is always looking at games for areas to grow no matter the outcome. One area she has focused on is the team's inability to follow up hard-fought sets that don’t go their way.

“If you come out with the same intensity you had in the first [set], you might be able to take that second set and now it's a whole different match,” Lipsitz said. “You are going to lose some close ones, you have to be able to battle back from that.”

Intensity is the Bulls’ most noticeable quality as many endgame practice drills look like a hard-fought game. Yet the still team needs to improve on consistency; the Bulls look to increase their level of play as they get closer to the MAC.

“We have a really high standard as a team and we are going to continue in that direction,” Wernette said. 

Wernette credits the high standard to the close relationships on the team and a general love of the game. She sees the competition in the MAC and knows that they still have a tough season ahead of them but also that they also have the opportunity to do great things.

“We want it all, we see how good we can be this season and it acts like a signing light,” Wernette said. “We want to reach it and that keeps us humble but also keeps us hungry.”

The Bulls play on Friday against the Bears at 4:30 p.m., and have two games on Saturday against the Mountaineers at 10:30 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. against the Panthers.

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


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