The volleyball program has had a tough go of things in the Mid-American Conference since joining the division. Last year, however, under first-year head coach Todd Kress, the Bulls finished with their best record since 1997 at 16-16 and captured the program's first-ever opening round MAC tournament victory.
In doing so, the Bulls enter this year with high expectations, but intend to build on last year's achievements and deliver a championship in 2010. Thanks to one of the best recruiting classes in Buffalo's history joining a field of returning veterans, those expectations may be reached.
Buffalo started the season with a strong showing at the West Virginia Mountaineer Classic. While there was much to be happy about, the tournament made it clear that there's still much to be worked on in the early stages of the season.
The Bulls began the season with a 3-0 sweep of Youngstown State (26-24, 25-20, 25-16) in the tournament's first match, but fell shortly thereafter with a loss to West Virginia, 3-1 (4-0) (26-28, 25-13, 25-22, 26-24). The Bulls closed out the tournament on the final day with a 3-0 shutout of Howard (0-3) (25-14, 25-12, 25-19).
The first two sets of the season recaptured the thrills of last year's most memorable moments.
Buffalo trailed Youngstown State 18-11 midway through the first set.
"We didn't play good volleyball in the first set," said Kress. "We weren't serving well, we weren't passing well… we were very psyched out."
The team made a six-point comeback before the Penguins responded to bring the score to 24-20. Buffalo followed suite by scoring six unanswered points to win the set, 26-24.
The Bulls' efficiency only increased during the match. They won the next set on back-to-back kills from freshman hitter Christine Fritsche. Senior blocker Kayla Govier's then recorded back-to-back kills to finish the match.
Buffalo could not capitalize on their win against West Virginia as the Bulls dropped two straight sets to fall to the eventual tournament champions.
"I think that West Virginia gave us a little more of a challenge," Kress said. "We made far too many errors… you can't expect to win the match with too many errors."
Senior middle blocker Kristin Bignell converted on 11-of-25 kills and Fritsche earned her first career double-double with 12 kills and 13 digs.
Buffalo's defense rebounded nicely from the loss to hold Howard University to zero hitting percentage for the match.
"Our match against Howard was the cleanest match that we played," Kress said. "We served well, we passed very well… we got in a little better rhythm. It was just a much better team effort."
The game provided freshmen the opportunity to showcase their talents as well. Fritsche finished her solid weekend with five kills while freshman hitter Dana Musil had a team-high 11 kills and added six services aces – two shy of the school record.
Still, the amount of errors the Bulls committed during the first two games was an area of concern for Kress.
"We need to work on everything right now," Kress said. "We're not happy with any one area. We still need to improve in every facet of the game."