After UB's two loss road trip last weekend, I wrote, half because it made sense, half because I didn't want to believe otherwise, that UB's twin straight-set losses without Tahleia Bishop and Marissa Prinzbach weren't worth too much stress, because both juniors would be back, and then we'd see the real UB again.
Given tonight's 27-25, 25-19, 25-22 victory on the road over Akron, it seems we don't have to wait for the two Buffalo lynchpins to return: the team can play just fine in the interim. After hitting just .090 and .050 against Ohio and Kent State, respectively, the UB attack found its footing tonight to the tune of a .229 hitting percentage against the Zips. After being plagued by receiving errors on the weekend, the Bulls committed just four tonight.
UB was lead by a breakout performance from freshman Skyler Day, who rarely subbed out and earned her first career double-double with 12 kills and 11 digs, second on the team in both stats. Day was especially strong late in each set, as nine of her 12 kills came in UB's 19th point or later. Amber Hatchett continued her excellent run for UB with 11 kills, and Megan Lipski was back to her usual self with a team-lead 13 and nine digs for good measure.
Despite my cheery first three paragraphs, UB's start to the night was relatively inauspicious. The Bulls used five quick kills from a combination of Hatchett, Lipski, and Akeila Lain to run even with Akron, but UB's early 5-4 lead quickly became a 10-5 advantage for the Zips, forcing UB coach Reed Sunahara to take a time out. The Bulls began to play better, but continued to trail for much of the first set, by as much as four at 18-14.
The Bulls, though, managed to turn that 18-14 deficit into a tie at 18, and another, 21-18, deficit into a 21-21 tie thanks to a combo of Day and Hatchett on seven of UB's eight points in the run. A couple of aces from Megan Lin helped UB get to set point, and when Akron was once again able to respond with a run, Buffalo fought off a set point of their own and Day ended the first with a kill - 27-25 for UB.
On the set, Hatchett and Lipski each had six kills, while Day, obviously, was an integral part of UB's play late. The Bulls defense also got stronger and stronger as the set went on; Akron was hitting .340 midway through the set but finished at just .156.
The Zips once again got an early lead in the second set, and carried it to an 18-14 lead at Buffalo's second timeout of the set. While fully half of UB's points had come on Akron errors, at 18-14 both teams were sizzling on offense: Buffalo was hitting .400 and Akron was even better at .429.
Once again, Buffalo was able to finish strong, ending the set on an incredible 11-1 run, this time thanks to Day and Lipski, whose short serve created trouble for the Akron front line and spurred a six point run for the Bulls. Just as in the first, the UB defense looked much more organized and figured the Zips out: Akron went from hitting .429 midway through to finishing the set at just .200 by the time freshman Niki Bozinoski ended it with two aces. UB on the other hand improved to hit .500 on the match - their best set of the year in that mark.
The third and final set moved just as fast as the second, but was the flip side of the coin. This time it was UB who enjoyed an 18-14 lead, though the Bulls were hitting just .083 to Akron's .045 at that juncture. The Zips were able to close to within one before freshman Cassie Shado entered and quickly got her lone kill of the match. Day once again turned the screws late in the set, scoring four of the Bulls' final five points and icing it with her 12th kill of the match.
On the night, the Bulls got the Zips for nine service aces, thanks to five from setter Megan Lin, who also contributed a solo block in the first set in addition to her 35 assists. As mentioned above, UB had only four receiving errors after being plagued by that issue over the weekend, and the Bulls hit .229 for the match. Their season average in that stat, even with Tahleia Bishop, had been .213.
I especially want to highlight the Bulls' defense on the night. As I mentioned above, in both the first and second sets Akron enjoyed high hitting percentages midway through the set, only to end at .156 in the first and at .200 in the second. UB's blockers were more organized, which kept the backline from scrambling as much, which helped set up the successful attack. Of course, you don't reel off an 11-1 run to close out a set without most things going right.
All in all, a solid bounceback game for the Bulls, who got a little bit of help from everybody who saw the floor. UB will next play at home this Saturday at 7:00 PM, welcoming Ball State into Alumni Arena. The Cardinals are 3-1 in the MAC and employ the services of Hayley Benson and her .329 hitting percentage, good for 5th in the conference. I won't be able to attend the match, as I'll be in Ypsilanti for the football game, but I hope to provide some degree of updates from Twitter.