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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman


Stony Brook women’s volleyball gears up for playoff run versus Charleston

The Stony Brook women’s volleyball team huddles before the match against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Saturday, Nov. 4. The Seawolves will kick off their 2023 postseason run on Thursday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After dominating the Battle of Long Island, the fifth-seeded Stony Brook women’s volleyball team now has its eyes set on the 2023 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) women’s volleyball tournament.

The Seawolves (16-13, 11-7 CAA) will travel to Maryland for their quarterfinal match against the fourth-seeded Charleston Cougars (14-15, 11-7 CAA) on Thursday. Opening set will begin at 4 p.m. at State Employees Credit Union (SECU) Arena: the home court of top-seeded Towson.

When the teams showed down against one another in late September, both walked away with a win.

Head coach Kristin Belzung sees Thursday’s matchup as a new opportunity given the amount of time that has passed since the two team’s first meeting.

“I think both teams are very different than they were the first time around,” Belzung said in an interview with The Statesman. “[Charleston is] a really high IQ team. They play good, clean volleyball. They read the game very well.”

The first-round clash is set up to be an offensive battle, as both offenses are ranked in the top five in the CAA in kills per set.

Stony Brook’s offense is spearheaded by its dynamic duo of outside hitters: Leoni Kunz and Kali Moore. Kunz — a 2023 All-CAA Second Team honoree — is second on the team in kills per set (2.89) and points per set (3.37). Moore is fifth in the conference in kills per set (3.22) and points per set (3.81) but did not earn any All-Conference honors this year.

Middle blocker Abby Campbell is the team’s third-leading scorer with 2.75 points per set. She shared the match-winning block with Kunz last Saturday, giving the Seawolves their first victory over Hofstra since 1999. Campbell’s .315 hitting percentage leads the team, and it currently sits just shy of the CAA’s top 10. She was inactive this past Sunday, but Belzung confirmed that Campbell will be available on Thursday.

Pin hitter Ava Jackson has been on fire as of late. She has had 10 or more kills in five of the team’s last six matches. The freshman averaged 2.53 points and 2.12 kills per set — enough to earn her a spot on the 2023 All-CAA Rookie Team.

Outside hitter Abby Stanwood has also been a good contributor this year, but she has not played since Oct. 28 against William & Mary. Stanwood is third on the team in kills per set (2.45) and fourth in points per set (2.60). Her status for the tournament is unknown.

Setter Torri Henry will facilitate Stony Brook’s offense. The 2023 CAA Setter of the Year and 2023 All-CAA First Team selection leads the conference with 10.67 assists per set.

Though attack errors have been the Seawolves’ biggest offensive flaw, they have cleaned up their act during their six-match winning streak. Their .213 hitting percentage ranks fifth in the conference.

Perhaps Stony Brook’s biggest strength is its service. The team ranks second in the CAA with 2.01 service aces per set. Henry is fifth in the CAA with 42 aces, while Moore is tied for sixth with 40. Libero Julia Patsos has served another 32 aces, tying her for the 10th-most in the conference. Eight different Seawolves have served a double-digit number of aces this year, as Campbell (21), outside hitter Lauren Schmitz (20), Jackson (17), Kunz (16) and defensive specialist Madison Cigna (13) are also involved.

Belzung wants her team to start off strong from the service line against Charleston.

“It’s something that we can do to get them uncomfortable in their game,” Belzung said. “The reality is that if they aren’t uncomfortable, then we have to dig in a little bit more from a defensive standpoint.”

Serving is not the Cougars’ strong suit, as they rank second-worst in the CAA with 1.21 aces per set. However, they are potent in other aspects. Charleston’s .223 hitting percentage ranks fourth in the conference, and its 12.72 kills per set is good for fifth.

Outside hitter Lexi Wierzbicki is a staple in Charleston’s offense. She is eighth in the CAA in 3.08 kills per set. Her 3.70 points per set are sixth-best in the conference. Outside hitter Anna Smith is second on her team with 2.80 kills per set and 3.04 points per set. Outside hitter Sophea Mink is the team’s third-leading scorer at 2.53 points per set, and her .249 hitting percentage leads all of the team’s players at her position.

Middle blockers Olivia Mae Van Der Werff and Sofie Vogel have each posted hitting percentages over .300. Vogel is the team’s fourth-leading scorer with 2.48 points per set.

The Cougars run a four-two formation with two designated setters, and they have a trio of facilitators that help run their offense. Setter Emma Appleman is their top option at the position, as she has played the most sets of the three and leads the team with 372 assists. Her 5.24 assists per set places her 10th in the CAA.

Setters Jasmin Goei and Hannah Scott are also involved. Goei has dished out 347 assists, while Scott leads the team with an average of 5.49 assists per set. However, Scott’s lack of playing time disqualifies her from the conference’s assists per set leaderboard.

Stony Brook’s defense has been red hot during its winning streak. The Seawolves rank second in the CAA with 15.82 digs per set. Patsos has been a beast for them, recording the second-most digs (453) and digs per set (4.23) in the conference. Henry makes an impact on defense as well, recording 292 total digs and posting 17 double-doubles (digs and assists).

However, Stony Brook struggles at the net. Even with its best blocking performance of the season last week, the team is second-to-last in blocks per set (1.70) in the CAA. Campbell leads the squad with 72 total blocks, seven of which were solo. Middle blocker Ayanna Pierre Louis is second on the team with 65 total blocks and five solo blocks. Kunz is the most involved outside hitter at the net, as her 62 blocks are the third-most on the team.

To slow down the Cougars’ offense, Belzung emphasized the need for defensive discipline.

“We are going to have to be disciplined and not try to get too far ahead of ourselves,” Belzung said. “See where what’s coming at us instead of guessing. Put yourself in a position where we can dig multiple attackers at the same time.”

Charleston is the superior defensive team. It is fourth in opponents’ hitting percentage, allowing just a .197 kill rate. For comparison, the Seawolves are eighth with a .211 hitting percentage against. The Cougars also lead the CAA in team digs with 16.18. Defensive specialist Tynley Smeltzer is not far behind Patsos, as her 3.92 digs per set ranks fifth in the conference. 

Charleston is also sixth in the CAA with 1.97 blocks per set. Vogel has been a big part of that, leading the group with 92 total blocks. Her 12 solo blocks trail only Wierzbicki’s 13 for the team lead, which both rank in the conference’s top five.

Belzung believes that the team who controls the scoring runs of this match will walk away victorious.

“I think this is one of those teams where we are going to have long rallies,” Belzung said. “The team that manages the rally and gets themselves back in control of it to get an opportunity to score first is probably going to win.”

If Stony Brook picks up its first-ever postseason win in the CAA, it will remain at SECU Arena to face Towson on Friday at 4 p.m.

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