Trouble in the MAC

Volleyball falls 3-0 in both of its weekend games

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Intensity, talent, grit, ferocity –– you name a quality tied to the Bulls volleyball team and it will sound like a team with potential and heart. 

The Bulls showed the ability to dig deep during the non-conference season and came into the start of Mid-American Conference play with an 8-4 record. Buffalo looked prime to continue its early success heading into two games at Alumni Arena this past weekend.

Two losing nights later, however, the team’s consistency took a turn. 

Buffalo (8-6, 0-2 MAC) was unable to win a single set this past weekend in its 3-0 losses to the Bowling Green Falcons (8-7, 2-0 MAC) and the Miami (OH) Redhawks (10-4, 2-0 MAC) at Alumni Arena. The lack of travel is usually an advantage at the collegiate level. Still, the Bulls have the ability to compete with any team in the MAC and have 14 conference games left to prove it.

“[The team] talked [after the game] about being relentless and that is something they have to pick up on,” said head coach Blair Brown-Lipsitz after the Saturday game against the Redhawks. “It starts in practice, we are going to focus on mentality but we got to improve on both ends of the ball. Things need to be crisper if they want to bring it the way [the team] talks about it.”

The Bulls have proven themselves against big conference teams this year, having wins over the St. John’s Red Storm (13-5, 2-1 Big East) and the Butler Bulldogs (4-10, 1-1 Big East). This was Buffalo’s best non-conference start since 2014.

Brown-Lipsitz has been able to turn the Bulls from a struggling program to a consistent .500 team since becoming head coach in 2015. Now, Brown-Lipsitz said her goal is to make the Bulls a top team in the MAC.

After the back-to-back shutouts it all seemed like ancient history.

“We need to put things together for longer stretches,” Brown-Lipsitz said after the Friday game against the Falcons. “I saw a lot of holes in our transition play. Just players not being where they needed to be to make a play or just a lack of energy in our reaction to the play. It is something we need to fix if we want to win in this conference.”

Buffalo used its block and outside hitters effectively in moments but was unable to get streaks going. The Bulls had several double touch fouls in both games while being unable to get past both teams’ defenses.

“Our team is always good at finding the positives in it,” said senior midblocker Megan Wernette. “We had our moments on offense and on defense, it’s just a matter of putting those pieces together … We’re fighters, I think we are going to come out of this and keep moving forward.”

Wernette said the team knew how good both teams were on defense but failed to execute the plan it established of a more constant pressure.

“We just weren’t where we needed to be on our side of the net,” Wernette said. “We were just slow out there at times and not playing the way we did in the gym. All we can do now is practice harder and bring that energy out there come game time.”

Both Wernette and Brown-Lipsitz said the Bulls could still be a winning team in the MAC this season. Brown-Lipsitz said the biggest obstacle is the team’s lack of consistency coming from letting up on the pressure.

The Bulls have a saying “anyone in the MAC can beat anyone,” but both players and coaches said they feel the play from this past weekend will not get it done moving forward.

“As a coach you can see things on the court and try to implement them, but players are who win games,” said Brown-Lipsitz. “It just comes down to how bad do they want to win and with the way things are going we won’t be able to compete in this conference. The MAC is always a tougher schedule than non-conference and I think they saw that tonight.”

Buffalo will play on Friday against the Ohio Bobcats (7-8, 2-0 MAC) in Athens, Ohio. Start time is set for 7 p.m. for the first game of a two-game road trip for Buffalo.

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