At the very beginning of the season, the University at Buffalo volleyball team played four matches in August, hosting their own tournament. They won two and lost two.
September came and went, and UB looked like a strong team, losing just two matches over three weekend tournaments and the beginning of MAC play.
October was the 'tails' side of the coin: Buffalo collected just two wins in the month. UB will need at a bare minimum two wins in November* to secure a spot in the MAC tournament. If the pendulum swings the other way, November would not be a bad month to have only two losses.
*not counting the post-Tournament home match against Albany
No matter your vantage point, losses to Miami and Bowling Green this past weekend move the Bulls two games closer to the end of the season, and another step further on a narrowing razor's edge for a tournament berth: over the last three weekends UB has gone from a four-way tie for sixth place, to a three-way tie for seventh before this week sitting in a three-way tie for eighth. Just eight teams make the MAC tournament, and UB has only advanced twice in their time in the MAC.
Last weekend, Coach Sunahara used some changes in his lineup to spur a split: a five-set loss to EMU and a smoother victory over Central Michigan Chippewas.
This most recent weekend, facing two road matches within the MAC East, the lineup changes continued for UB as Coach Sunahara looks to regain the consistency of September. After a poor offensive set with the recently-adopted two-setter rotation, UB switched back to a single-setter offense with Marissa Prinzbach and continued to struggle, falling into a 2-0 hole against the Redhawks.
UB won the third set but could not match Eastern Michigan's five-set come-from-behind effort of the previous Friday, falling in four. There's little to say about the match other than Tahleia Bishop put down 17 kills and had an excellent 29 digs.
Mixed Results for UB on Halloween Friday: Men's Tennis, Swimming and Diving, Volleyball compete - Bull Run
Cassie Shado once again led UB in blocks, but the team as a whole had just nine after two strong blocking games against the directional Michigans last weekend.
On Saturday, the lineup tinkering was even more drastic: UB's starting six was a combination unique from the rest of the season as usual outside hitter Megan Lipski started the match at libero. It was the first set all year that did not feature freshman Niki Bozinoski at the defensive specialist position. Bozinoski skill from service bumped Tessa Ooyama out of the rotation, while freshman Skyler Day got the start in Lipski's hitter position.
Buffalo would win the first set but fall 2-1 by the end of the third. Despite Lipski high dig totals for much of the season to this point, she struggled in her first career action at libero and Bozinoski returned to the role in the fourth set. UB rallied to force a fifth set, but was never really able to threaten the Falcons after the first few points and fell to 0-3 in five-set matches this season.
More dedicated readers will remember that UB swept both Miami and Bowling Green back in September. What gives now that the tables have been turned. I have three answers.
The easy: In September the 'two' was in the loss column, and UB had already fallen to South Florida and Indiana. In October, it had swung to the other side, and Buffalo had already beaten Akron and CMU.
The medium: In September, both matches occurred at home for UB, where they're more comfortable and were able to capitalize on long trips by the visitors. Last weekend, both teams were at home and enjoying the home-court advantage themselves.
The difficult: Miami started to put things together after the first MAC weekend, and sat second in the East prior to facing off with Buffalo. Bowling Green, though below Buffalo in the standings, had been without Jelena Sunjic - as Paige notes in his fanpost linked below - to injury for a portion of the season, including the earlier loss to the Bulls.
Anyway, Buffalo also lost to Bowling Green.
UB Bulls Saturday: Wrestling, Women's Swimming and Diving lead the way - Bull Run
Of note: through the first three sets Megan Lipski replaced Niki Bozinoski as the team's libero. I wasn't able to catch a video feed in either of this weekend's matches, but after the change in offensive strategy last Saturday, it's clear that Reed Sunahara isn't afraid to mix things up to find a combination that works.
I don't really have any stats to share this week, so I'll move right on to MAC standings and the numbers involved there:
As mentioned above, UB now sits in a three-way tie for eighth, and needs at a minimum a 2-2 record in their remaining MAC games to have a prayer of a berth in the conference tournament. Of note: Right now, Buffalo is slotted ahead of Bowling Green in the standings despite their identical MAC and head-to-head records. This suggests that MAC follows similar tiebreakers in volleyball as in basketball, and that UB's 4-8 holds the advantage over BG's and CMU's 4-8s on the basis of their 2-1 head-to-head-to-head record.
This Week in Bull
We'll end with some good news: UB is at home for three of their remaining four MAC contests, and the lone road trip is to Toledo, who is just 1-24 on the year.
Buffalo (RPI 171, MR 155) looks this weekend to overcome two three-set losses from earlier in the season, as they welcome Kent State (170, 165) to Alumni Arena on Friday and MAC East leader Ohio (41, 31) on Saturday. Both matches will start at 7:00 PM, and the Bulls will honor seniors Sable Staller and Liz Scott prior to the Ohio match.