UAlbany Volleyball Earns Army Invitational Championship with Five-Set Win Over Black Knights
WEST POINT, N.Y. – The UAlbany volleyball team came back from down 2-1 to defeat Army in five (25-22, 20-25, 22-25, 25-22, 15-9) to earn the Army Invitational championship with three victories over the weekend.
With the win, UAlbany (6-6) has won four straight matches to enter conference play. All four victories came against teams that stood at least three matches over .500 going into the contest. In addition, it is the first time UAlbany has won all three matches in an in-season tournament in four years.
“We showed a lot of poise today; Army came out fired up, and we were a little emotionally spent from two wins yesterday,” said UAlbany head coach MJ Engstrom. “We switched the lineup and started serving at the same aggressive level as we did yesterday. I’m really proud of the way we pushed through this match, we used everybody, showed some grit and dug down deep to come out with a win.”
Laini Leindecker was named the tournament MVP after earning a double-double of 18 kills and 20 digs against Army. In total, she had three double-doubles in the tournament, totaling 44 kills and 48 digs. Nicole Otero also earned a place on the All-Tournament Team, notching 79 digs, six aces and 14 assists, including 40 digs and six assists against Army (8-6).
“Every single person gave it their all, and we played with heart,” said Leindecker. “I am proud of how we handled that as a team, and I am excited to see how we build off this.”
For Army, Sydney Morriss hit .405 with 17 kills and six digs. Olivia Fairfield had 15 kills and three blocks while Allie Strong had a double-double of 10 kills and 21 digs.
The two teams kept exchanging pairs of points in the opening set for a 6-6 tie score early. At 8-7 Army, three Blacks Knights kills built a four-point lead, later seeing Army lead 13-8. Okenwa fired off three kills on a 5-0 run to tie the set, then after two Army kills, Evering got two kills off a 3-0 streak for a 16-15 UAlbany lead. The next five points were all blocks, with the teams tying again at 20-20. UAlbany notched kills in four of the next five points, capped by a Gabrielle Hansen back row kill, for a 24-21 advantage. Okenwa finished the set with a kill for a 25-22 victory.
Army got off to a 5-1 start in set two. Chloe Lamb got a kill to send Otero back to serve, who took UAlbany to a 5-0 run and 6-5 lead. Army countered with a 4-0 run to lead 9-6. The pairs of points exchanges continued as two Morriss kills made it 14-9 Army. UAlbany fought back, using 3-0 runs off Leindecker and Nina Holmes’ serving to tie the set at 19. Army, fueled by three Olivia Fairfield kills, got five of the final six to win set two 25-20 and even the match.
Each side exchanged a 3-0 run in the early part of game three. At 6-5 Army, UAlbany grabbed six of the next seven, capped by a McCauley dump kill, for an 11-7 lead. A UAlbany error and four kills from different players for Army put the Black Knights ahead 12-11. Army built its lead with two kills from Carolyn Bockrath to go up 17-13. After Taylor Robinson got a kill, McCauley served UAlbany back to a tie set at 17. After Army got three back, Leindecker earned three straight kills, including two from the back row, to tie it up at 20-20. Army got four kills in the final seven points and took the victory 25-22 to lead 2-1 in the match.
Army again got the early lead in the fourth set, going up 7-3. Evering got a kill then Leindecker followed with three more to tie the game at 7-7. Army picked up a 3-0 run as exchanged followed as the home team built the lead to 15-10. Evering again got a kill to stop the run, and Amanda Dolan buried three kills in a row to pull UAlbany within one. Army kept the lead and had a 20-17 advantage after a Vanessa Wesley kill. After an Army attack error, Kelly Cameron served UAlbany into the lead, including a kill and solo block from Okenwa, for a 22-20 Great Danes advantage. Two kills for Army tied it up at 22-22. UAlbany let Army swing away for two attack errors, then Leindecker sealed the set with an ace to win the game 25-22 and force a tiebreaker.
Cameron picked up a block and an ace for an early 3-2 UAlbany lead. Back and forth the teams went until at 5-5, an Army attack error, Holmes ace and a second Army error gave UAlbany an 8-5 lead. Army got to within one at 8-7, then UAlbany countered with two kills to go back up 10-7. After a Army point, Dolan notched a kill to send Emily Zimmerman to serve. Zimmerman got UAlbany to an 13-8 lead. Two more kills, from Cameron and Leindecker, to end the game gave the set to UAlbany 15-9 and the match victory.
UAlbany will now prepare for conference play, heading to Vestal on Friday, September 23rd for a 7 p.m. match against SUNY rival Binghamton.