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Stony Brook women’s volleyball hopes for redemption in semifinals at Towson

The Stony Brook women’s volleyball team celebrates against the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Saturday, Nov. 4. The Seawolves will play Towson in the conference semifinal on Friday. BRITTNEY DIETZ/THE STATESMAN

After picking up its first-ever postseason victory in the Coastal Athletic Association (CAA), the Stony Brook women’s volleyball team has a very tough rematch ahead in the semifinals.

The fifth-seeded Seawolves (17-13, 11-7 CAA) will take on the top-seeded Towson Tigers (23-5, 16-2 CAA) on Friday afternoon at 4 p.m. Stony Brook will be challenging Towson on its own home court: State Employee Credit Union (SECU) Arena.

This match has the potential to be very high-scoring, with both offenses riding hot streaks. Towson has the best scoring offense (18.37 points per set) in the CAA, while Stony Brook ranks fourth (16.63).

As was evident in their win on Thursday, the Seawolves rely heavily on outside hitters Kali Moore and Leoni Kunz, who spearhead its offensive attack. Moore is the CAA’s fifth-leading scorer with 3.88 points per set while Kunz is ninth with 3.41. Kunz’s explosiveness and efficiency earned her a selection to the 2023 All-CAA Second Team. Middle blocker Abby Campbell is the team’s third-leading scorer, averaging 2.74 points per set.

Pin hitter Ava Jackson has grown into another star on offense. The freshman earned a spot on the 2023 All-CAA Rookie Team. Jackson is fifth on the team with 2.56 points per set. She narrowly trails outside hitter Abby Stanwood on the team’s scoring leaderboard, who is third on the team in kills per set (2.45) and fourth in points per set (2.60). However, Stanwood has not played since Oct. 28 versus William & Mary.

Towson boasts a well-rounded attack and is led by outside hitter Nina Cajic: the 2023 CAA Player of the Year. Cajic ranks third in the conference with 4.24 points and 3.57 kills per set. Outside hitter Victoria Barrett ended the regular season narrowly trailing Cajic, placing fourth with 4.01 points and 3.36 kills per set. Outside hitter Irbe Lazda fell just shy of the conference’s top-10 scorers, averaging 3.35 points per set. Lazda and Cajic have both been very efficient from the outside this year, posting hitting percentages of .340 and .324, respectively.

Outside of that trio, the Tigers score by committee. Middle blocker Aayinde Smith is the team’s only other scorer who averages over two points per set, posting a rate of 2.32. Her .336 hitting percentage ranks eighth in the CAA, just one spot above Cajic and two below Lazda.

Towson plays a much cleaner offensive game than Stony Brook, as its .295 hitting percentage not only leads the CAA but also ranks eighth in the nation.

Despite inconsistencies throughout much of the year, the Seawolves come into the match ranked fifth in the conference in hitting percentage at a .218 clip. Campbell leads the pack with a .316 rate. Kunz has posted a .268 hitting percentage, but the rest of the team’s outside hitters have struggled to keep up.

Stony Brook claims the 2023 CAA Setter of the Year with Torri Henry, who leads the conference and is in the nation’s top 10 with 10.85 assists per set. She is coming off a strong outing against Charleston that saw her notch 42 assists in just three sets.

The Tigers are the only team that outrank the Seawolves in assists. They will look to setter Sarah Jordan, who ended the regular season as the CAA’s fourth-leading passer with 8.97 assists per set.

On defense, Stony Brook is average in most categories but places second in digs per set (15.91). Libero Julia Patsos is second in the CAA with 4.26 digs per set. Henry, Moore and Kunz are also valuable defensive players for the Seawolves with all three averaging over two digs per set.

However, its Achilles’ heel has been its inability at the net. Campbell leads the team with seven solo blocks and 74 total blocks. Fellow middle blocker Ayanna Pierre Louis is second with five solo blocks and 67 total blocks. Kunz has also gotten involved in the action, contributing 64 total blocked attacks this season.

While Towson struggles to dig the ball — sitting eighth in the conference — it excels in nearly every other defensive metric. It paces the conference in the opponent’s hitting percentage (.152) and blocks per set (2.55) while also surrendering the third-fewest service aces (1.30). Smith leads the CAA with 119 total blocks. Middle blocker Erin Brothers is second on the team with 92 total blocks and Lazda trails her by one. Their main defensive weapon is libero Sydney Stewart, who averages 4.11 digs per set, a mark good for fourth in the CAA.

Both teams are strong from the service line. The Seawolves trail only Hofstra in aces per set (1.98) while the Tigers sit in fourth (1.75). Both Henry (44), Moore (40) and Patsos (32) rank inside the CAA’s top 10 in aces served. Five total Stony Brook servers have over 20 aces, and eight in total have cracked double digits. For Towson, Cajic (40), Barrett (35) and Stewart (32) rank in the top 10, while three others have served a double-digit number of aces.

With Stony Brook about to run into a buzzsaw on its own home court, it will have to play its best volleyball of the year to advance to the championship match. If the Seawolves pull off the massive upset, they will remain at SECU Arena to face the winner of the Delaware-Campbell match on Saturday.

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