The UB Volleyball is not out of it just yet, but the margin for error keeps getting thinner and thinner.
Needing at least two wins in their final four matches to advance to the MAC tournament for just the third time in program history after missing out last year on tiebreakers, the Bulls are really behind the eight-ball now after falling the Kent State in five sets in Alumni Arena Friday evening. Buffalo is now 0-4 in fifth sets this season.
Tonight ended in a loss, but a volleyball match simply doesn't get any closer than tonight's: three of five sets were determined by the minimum two points, Kent State and Buffalo were within .006 of each other in hitting percentage, the Flashes had just one more kill than the hosts, and UB actually scored more points, 109, than their opponents' 108.
The match started slowly to the tune of a 7-1 deficit for UB, but the Bulls fought back to lead 19-17 and even 23-21 before surrendering four straight points and the set. Buffalo has had close calls while playing poorly before this season, but nearly claimed the set despite hitting only .106.
Kent once again took an early lead in the second, but UB worked for a 18-14 lead before closing out the set at 25-18. It was by far UB's strongest set of the night, and reminiscent of Buffalo's early-season play, as they hit .462 while committing only three errors in attack.
The third set was literally point-for-point until Buffalo was able to open up a 14-11 lead and force a Kent State timeout, but the Golden Flashes played well out of the reset, taking a 17-15 lead on their way to a 25-21 set in which they took the last three points. UB once again hit poorly in this set - just .098 to Kent's .216. Between attack, service, and receiving errors in the set, Buffalo gave Kent 10 of their 25 points.
In the fourth and fifth sets UB displayed some of its toughest play of the year to fight for the win. Buffalo enjoyed only fleeting leads in the fourth set before working to a 21-21 tie, from which point freshman Cassie Shado notched consecutive kills and UB was able to trade points for the 25-23 win. The fifth set got dire fast: the Bulls opened with thundering kills from Shado and Tahleia Bishop but quickly fell down 7-2, 8-3, and 9-4.
Hatchett, Sable Staller, and Shado all came up big to lift the Bulls back into a tie, and after working to 13-13 on a Kent State service error, Buffalo got to match point entirely off the arm of Megan Lipski. The junior's highly effective short serve kept the Kent offense from a strong attack before she won her own point with a big kill.
If UB indeed misses the conference tournament, UB's chance at match point could go down as the most critical of the season. Kent was once again disorganized off a Lipski serve, and Megan called the ball out, looking for it to drop and give UB the match, but freshman libero Niki Bozinoski stepped in and corralled it. Cassie Shado's swing on that point flew long, and after the teams traded points, Kent was able to win two in a row on a kill and an attack error from Amber Hatchett that slid just a touch wide.
Hatchett and Bishop each finished with 15 kills tonight, though Bishop had ten through the first two sets and Hatchett four in the fourth and five in the fifth. Megan Lipski (11), Akeila Lain (9), and Cassie Shado (8) also played well in attack. Sable Staller, who continues to lead the team in hitting percentage, had five kills and only a single on just eleven swings. It is my belief that little bad happens when Sable Staller touches the ball and even as the season wanes I would like to see more of her.
Reed Sunahara run the six-two offense that we've been talking about the last few weeks for the whole match, with Prinzbach and Lin finishing with near-identical assist numbers. In other stats, UB had a strong day with 85 digs, including 33 from Niki Bozinoski and three more Bulls in double digits. Those numbers were helped in particular by very strong play from Buffalo's middle blockers: UB finished with 14 blocks, including eight from Cassie Shado and seven from Amber Hatchett.
Now 4-9 in the MAC, Buffalo takes the court again tomorrow, welcoming MAC East-leading Ohio into Alumni Arena at 7:00 PM. Despite another home game next Thursday against Akron and after the MAC Tournament against Albany, UB will celebrate Senior Night this weekend, recognizing Sable Staller and perhaps Liz Scott, who has not played this year and could take a redshirt.