Heart and intensity

Volleyball team keeps improving following last seasons turnaround

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A 6-3 record is over .500, but doesn’t scream excellence or mediocrity. For the volleyball team, it’s what happens during and between those games and sets that defines a team with heart and intensity.

            “We can play with anyone,” said head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz in a phone interview. “I’ve always seen how physical this team has been. We get in there and play hard during every set. There is always intention to what we do.”

            Lipsitz enters her fourth year as head coach, having turned the Bulls from a struggling 4-25 team to a 15-13 record last year. Brown Lipsitz said the Bulls are in the best shape she has seen them in during her coaching tenure. She attributes it to the experience and a constant drive to improve that her whole team shares.

            “This team has been years in the making,” Brown Lipsitz said. “I’ve been working with this team for two years now and I can see where this team has improved so drastically.”

            This past weekend, the Bulls played in the Arkansas Classic going 1-2. After dropping its first two games to the Arkansas Razorbacks (6-2) and the Northwestern Wildcats (7-2), the Bulls bounced back with a 3-2 win over the Butler Bulldogs (1-8).

            They started the Butler game down 2-0 in sets before winning the final three for the comeback win.

            “We are just the kind of team you can’t write off,” said junior setter Scout McLerran. “We have had bad days and even games this season but it never stops us from getting back out there. We always play with intensity behind everything we do. Losses don’t weigh on us; we just always focus on the next game.”

            McLerran has been a team captain since her freshman season and has played for Brown-Lipsitz during her entire UB career. She said the team is “way better” than they were her freshman year, even with most of the team having played that season.

            “That season was rough,” McLerran said. “We were just such a young team and we were learning so much. It taught us a lot though, it’s something we learned from and now carry with us each season.”

            McLerran said that the team has always played with intensity but now has “more weapons” thanks to a focus on technique.

            Along with player improvement, the Bulls have made strides in recruitment. Sophomore outside hitter Andrea Mitrovic had 24 kills against the Bulldogs on Saturday, her third 20-plus kill performance of the season.

            “I feel my own success comes from the team,” Mitrovic said. “We all put in the work to get better and it helps motivate me to improve my whole performance.”

            Mitrovic and junior outside hitter Polina Prokudina were a strong force on offense for the Bulls and this year they look poised to repeat. Mitrovic said she looks to improve all areas of the game, specifically the block, which has been a team wide effort.

            The Bulls have already earned wins over Big East conference teams such as Butler, the St. John's Red Storm (8-3) and the Seton Hall Pirates (4-4) this season. Still, Brown Lipsitz said those wins are only a footnote for what she hopes to accomplish at UB.

            “I want to compete with the top MAC (Mid-American Conference) teams to show what this team can do,” Brown-Lipsitz said. “There are a lot of good conference teams and I want to show that we can be a top MAC team.”

            With only one more weekend tournament before the start of the conference season, the Bulls will look to improve upon its 8-8 MAC record from last season.

            Buffalo will play next in the American Tournament held in Washington D.C., starting Friday at 7 p.m.

Thomas Zafonte is the senior sports editor and can be reached at thomas.zafonte@ubspectrum.com and on Twitter @Thomas_Spectrum