UAlbany Volleyball Wins Five-Set Battle vs. UNH to Hold First Place in AE; Engstrom Earns 150th Victory at UAlbany
ALBANY, N.Y. – The UAlbany volleyball team fought an as-advertised battle against rival New Hampshire on Sunday afternoon, emerging victorious in five sets (25-23, 25-22, 13-25, 26-28, 18-16) to remain alone in first place in the America East.
UAlbany (12-6, 6-0 AE) was up 13-9 in the tiebreaker set as New Hampshire (11-10, 4-2 AE) took the next five for match point. UAlbany defended against on a long rally, then defended a second match point on a Laini Leindecker kill. A Taylor Robinson-Chloe Evering combo block on a Demi Muses hard strike set up UAlbany match point, then Leindecker sealed it with a service ace.
“Being up two games and then having to play a fifth set is the most difficult way to win; there were lots of big important swings for both sides in the final set,” said UAlbany head coach MJ Engstrom, who earned her 150th victory as the head coach of UAlbany.
With the win, UAlbany earned its 10th consecutive victory and a perfect America East first half run. The Great Danes have a two-match lead on first place with six matches left to play in the regular season.
Laini Leindecker earned another double-double, her 13th of the season, by hitting .311 with 21 kills and 19 digs. Chloe Evering hit .292 with 18 kills and six digs while Akuabata Okenwa had 16 kills and three blocks. Mikala McCauley notched a double-double off 58 assists, 21 digs and five blocks while Amanda Dolan had 10 kills and eight blocks. At libero, Nicole Otero finished with 27 digs and five assists.
“UNH is a good team, our serving was aggressive at crucial times, which helped us keep them out of their offense,” said Leindecker. “Overall, I am so proud of the fight in our team.”
“The seniors did a great job keeping our younger players focused and believing we could win this match,” said Engstrom. “It was a great battle and a really gritty performance by everyone today.”
For New Hampshire, Demi Muses hit .304 with 22 kills, 18 digs and five blocks while Emily Tanski hit .302 for 20 kills, 20 digs, six assists and two aces.
Fueled by two Okenwa kills, UAlbany began the first set on a 5-1 spurt, going back and forth until at 7-4, Gabrielle Hansen served UAlbany through a 4-0 run, including two Dolan kills, for a seven-point advantage. UAlbany added to its lead off two kills and a McCauley ace for a 15-7 advantage. At 16-9, Sara Carlson took UNH through a 6-0 run to pull the visitors within one, then using two Muses kills to go ahead 18-177. Down 20-18, Dolan notched a kill, then Hansen hit two aces for a 21-20 UAlbany lead. Including two kills and a block, UAlbany pushed ahead and took the set 25-23.
A serving run by Tanski, capped by an ace, put UNH ahead 8-4 early in the second set. At 9-6, kills by Kennedi Smith and Keelin Severtson put the Wildcats up 13-6, later 14-7. UAlbany had a four-kill run, including two from Evering, to pull within three. After a Tanski kill, UAlbany earned the next six off three Evering kills, two Dolan blocks and a UNH error, to lead 17-15. Tanski again halted the run, then Okenwa hit a kill for Nina Holmes to serve, putting UAlbany ahead 20-16. With kills from three different people, the Wildcats pulled back to within one at 22-21. UAlbany did not relinquish the lead, ending the set with two kills for a 25-22 game victory and a 2-0 match lead.
UNH got off to a 8-3 start in set three, including two Tanski kills, adding two more later to go up 13-6. Leindecker picked up kills to stop runs, but UAlbany could not get back-to-back points the rest of the set. The Wildcats won the set 25-13 to force a fourth set.
Including two kills from each Leindecker and Okenwa, UAlbany raced to a 8-4 lead to begin set four. At 9-5, Severtson served UNH to the lead 10-9, including three kills. UNH kept getting pairs of points to take its lead to 17-13. Down 21-17, UAlbany surged ahead with a 6-0 run, sparked by three Evering kills and continued by a Dolan block and kill plus an Otero ace, for a 23-21 lead. After UNH got the next two, UAlbany had match point after an Okenwa kill. UNH defended and set up game point off two Muses kills. UAlbany held on a Dolan kill and regained match point off a Leindecker kill. But UNH got the next three to win the fourth set 28-26 and force a tiebreaker.
The fifth set started back and forth, with UAlbany’s front row trading kills with Muses. At 6-5 UNH, Evering buried two balls for kills, then Dolan connected on a kill and block for a 9-6 UAlbany lead. Tanski got a kill and block to pull UNH within one. Off Hansen’s serving and two Leindecker kills, UAlbany broke ahead up 13-9. A Gabri Olhava kill was followed by three kills and a block by Muses to give UNH match point at 14-13. UAlbany survived a long rally with a Taylor Robinson kill, then McCauley fired an ace to make it match point UAlbany. A Kennedi Smith and Muses solo block reserved the positions again for UNH match point. Leindecker knocked down the kill to make it 16-16. Next point, Evering and Robinson combined to block a Muses attack to the floor to set up another match point. Leindecker notched her ace off the UNH libero for a 18-16 set five win and 3-2 match victory.
UAlbany will remain at home for its next game, hosting Binghamton on Friday, October 21st at 7 p.m.