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Stony Brook women’s volleyball picks up first-ever CAA playoff win, advances to semifinals

Outside hitters Kali Moore and Leoni Kunz (center) celebrate a point against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Saturday, Nov. 4. Moore and Kunz led the Seawolves in scoring on Thursday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After entering the postseason scalding hot, the fifth-seeded Stony Brook women’s volleyball team picked up right where it left off.

On Thursday, the Seawolves (17-13, 11-7 CAA) advanced to the semifinals of the 2023 Coastal Athletic Association (CAA) women’s volleyball tournament by destroying the fourth-seeded Charleston Cougars (14-16, 11-7 CAA) in a clean sweep. They will now face the top-seeded Towson Tigers on their own home court tomorrow at 4 p.m.

The first set started off calmly, as a kill by Charleston outside hitter Anna Smith tied it at seven apiece. Smith’s point proved to be the end of competitive play for the rest of the set. Stony Brook unleashed a 14-3 scoring barrage to go up 21-10 on outside hitter Kali Moore’s back, who registered six kills during the outburst. Holding a big lead, the Seawolves got contributions from four different players, who all delivered kills to salt the 25-17 victory away.

The second set followed nearly the same opening narrative with Charleston outside hitter Lexi Wierzbicki’s attack finding a crease in the defense to tie it 9-9. From there, four consecutive miscues by the Cougars and a kill from outside hitter Leoni Kunz finished off a 5-0 run, giving Stony Brook a 14-9 lead. After a 4-0 run by Charleston slimmed the Seawolves’ lead to just one, Moore and pin hitter Ava Jackson each notched a pair of kills as part of a 7-2 run to take control of the second set.

After reaching set point, a pair of errors by Moore and Kunz and a kill by Charleston middle blocker Sofie Vogel cut Stony Brook’s advantage down to 24-22. However, Jackson’s attack ricocheted off Wierzbicki’s arms and caromed into the seats to end the Cougars’ rally and put the Seawolves one win away from advancing.

With Stony Brook smelling blood in the water and Charleston clinging on for dear life, the third set began with a 10-10 deadlock. Back-to-back kills by middle blocker Abby Campbell sparked the most important rally of the year for the Seawolves, who went on a 9-2 run to take command. During the stretch, Campbell recorded another kill, while Moore turned in three consecutive kills of her own.

Consecutive scores by the Cougars cut Stony Brook’s lead to 19-14, but the team responded with another five unanswered points to make it 24-14. Now on match point, an attack error by outside hitter Lauren Schmitz kept the set briefly alive, but an awkward, soft attack by middle blocker Ayanna Pierre Louis led to a four-hits violation and a postseason win.

Head coach Kristin Belzung commended her team for its composed nature and strong defensive performance.

“Conference tournament is high pressure and emotional, and I’m proud of our group for coming in focused and scrapping from the start,” Belzung said in a postgame interview with Stony Brook Athletics. “Defensively, it wasn’t the most pure game, but we found ways to keep the ball off the ground and get arms out of tough situations.”

The Seawolves offense simply outclassed Charleston in efficiency. Stony Brook’s .320 hitting percentage more than doubled the Cougars’ .139. The Seawolves’ offense leaned heavily on their big three, who all had hitting percentages over .300, as Kunz (.367), Campbell (.357) and Moore (.316) led the way.

Moore and Kunz each cracked double-digit scoring figures with 16.5 and 15, respectively. Jackson added 9.5 points on nine kills, while Campbell and setter Torri Henry added another seven.

Henry had another tremendous day facilitating the offense, tallying 42 assists.

The Seawolves turned in one of their better defensive efforts of the season, totaling 57 total digs over the three sets. Libero Julia Patsos led them with 18, followed by Schmitz’s 11. Henry and Kunz each threw in another nine digs, while Moore tallied eight.

Now just one step away from the championship, Stony Brook is going to have to take down the CAA’s top team to stay alive.

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