Buffalo’s Women’s Volleyball team opened their season over the weekend, with four matches in the UB Invitational Tournament. Buffalo finished the weekend with a 2–2 record, but also two feel-good stories.
Senior Sable Staller, from Russiaville, IN, hadn’t played since her freshman year because of injuries. But now healthy, Staller played a surprising role in Buffalo’s success this weekend.
Staller, who stands 6-2, had played outside hitter her freshman year, and had a very good year for a freshman. She sat out the next two years due to injuries. But this year, as a senior, she moved to the right side, and earned a starting position there. Given that Staller is the second tallest player on the team, her presence on the front line would be very helpful for the Bulls.
Since the NCAA changed the substitution rules two years ago to allow coaches 15 substitutions a set (instead of 12 previously), many coaches now take advantage of the new rules to replace their right-side hitter with a defensive specialist when it came time for the right-side hitter to rotate to the back row. And that makes a lot of sense on most teams; who wouldn’t want a smaller and faster player on the back row playing defense instead of a tall attacker?
But much to my surprise, against Siena on Saturday afternoon, coach Reed Sunahara left the 6-2 Staller in the game when she rotated to the back row, which I did not recall her playing as a freshman. And unexpectedly (to me, anyway), Staller turned into a digging machine. She showed surprising quickness for a big player, and surprising agility as well, diving on the floor many times to keep the ball off the floor. This was doubly surprising to me, given the huge knee brace she was wearing. Many times she dove from the back row to front row to cover a block or ricochet, and once or twice attempted a pancake dig.
Staller, playing every single point, finished the game against Siena with a career high 9 digs. And against Canisius, she improved her career high to 11 digs (again playing every single point). Against Ole Miss, Staller had 10 more digs (again playing every single point).
Let’s not forget the other aspects of her game. She currently is third on the team with 7 blocks, she is third on the team with a hitting percentage of 0.242, while averaging 2 kills per set.
So, after sitting out two years due to injury, Sable Staller played every single point in 3 matches over the weekend, making big contributions. Welcome back to the volleyball court, Sable Staller!
As a freshman, setter Megan Lin, from Taipei, Taiwan, played in only three matches all year. Then coach Todd Kress had been using a two setter offense all year, and with Lin being the third setter on the depth chart, she saw no action, until one of the other setters was injured during pre-game warm-ups against Maryland-Eastern Shore on September 21. Lin, along with senior Dani Reinert, would be the two setters who would play that day. But midway through the second set, coach Kress had seen enough, and he decided to take Lin out of the game and use one setter the rest of the way. Lin had seven assists that day, and the rest of the year she appeared in only 2 more matches, not recording another assist.
Now a sophomore, Lin was placed into the lineup as the only setter in coach Sunahara’s offense, and she struggled against Lehigh on Friday night, as did the entire team. Buffalo hit only 0.090 in that match. You know the old saying: when the setter has a bad day, everyone has a bad day.
The next day, against Siena, we saw a whole different Megan Lin, and a whole different Buffalo team. Lin connected well with her middle blockers and outside hitters, and Buffalo’s hitting percentage rose to 0.220. In particular Lin’s connections with middle blocker Amber Hatchett, both on the slide as well as on quick attacks, was exceptional, and Hatchett had 15 kills and hit .400.
Against Canisius on Saturday night, the improvement continued, dramatically. Buffalo recorded a 0.398 hitting percentage, their highest hitting percentage since 2010, and Lin had a career high 42 assists, spreading the ball around to her middles and outside hitters with great effectiveness. The connection between Lin and her attackers was outstanding.
Buffalo struggled against major conference opponent Ole Miss on Sunday, and yet still played two competitive sets that they could have won. Buffalo hit only 0.108 that day, but Lin still recorded 37 assists, and her connection with outside hitter Tahleia Bishop was sharp, as Bishop finished with 16 kills and a 0.343 hitting percentage. The connection with the middle blockers was not nearly as sharp.
Lin is not blessed with great height, as she stands only 5-8, and usually a 5-8 setter is a blocking liability. Lehigh wasted no time attacking Lin (as most teams will probably do), and many shots went right over her outstretched arms. But over the course of the weekend, Lin still managed to record 6 blocks, but more importantly, she did manage to get her hands on many attacks — one time deflecting the ball with one hand. These are important contributions on defense because they slow the ball down and make it easier to return, although these touches don’t show up in the box score as a block.
So after an inauspicious freshman year, sophomore Megan Lin provided many important contributions. Welcome to the starting lineup, Megan Lin!