We’ll get in time a better measure of Buffalo’s opening weekend against Virginia, Northwestern, and George Washington. All three could put together a strong run through September and lessen the sting of an 0-3 start, and the Bulls can build this weekend on their final performance of the last, in which they had GW on the ropes with a 2-0 set lead before struggling on offense the rest of the way and falling in five sets.
This weekend’s trio of matches in Pittsburgh present lower-hanging fruit for getting that first win of the season. UB faces Robert Morris (1-2), St. Francis (1-3), and Duquesne (3-2).
As I’ve said on the Olympic Rundown podcast, these schools are a little closer to UB peers than the three we saw last weekend. You can click through the sidebar to Paige’s case for these games as winnable.
Despite the 1-2 record, Robert Morris was the preseason pick to win the Northeast Conference after claiming the title last year and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. They could easily have a winning record right now after a tight four-set loss to Morehead State, and boast an experienced roster that features four seniors, three juniors, and a pair sophomores who played in every set in RMU’s 19-13 2015 season.
RMU is led by a trio of hitters averaging 3.00 kills/set or more, though one - MB Leah Dunivan - has only played in seven sets. The other two, sophomore OH Taylor Lord and senior OH Arden Fisher, split the bulk of the offense, each leading the rest of the team in swings by a large margin. Setter Brianna Frakes is shy of 11 assists per set, which doesn’t seem like many, but is well above Scout McLerran’s output right now.
St. Francis had an easy win over Morgan State and a tough loss to LaSalle last weekend in Philadelphia, but was otherwise noncompetitive against Quinnipiac and NJIT, neither of which have the same pedigree as Virginia and Northwestern from UB’s opening weekend.
The Red Flash were 6-23 last season, just 4-10 in the NEC, graduated three seniors, and were picked seventh in the NEC preseason poll. That said, they return a balanced lineup, including last year’s leading backline player, both setters, and three players who tallied more than 100 kills in 2015.
Through four games under new head coach Sarah McMullen, Breanna Opera leads the team in swings and kills, though Emily Marcinowski and Kelsey Roush also find opportunities in attack. None of the three outside hitters are hitting above .200.
SFU’s service game could be a dangerous weapon against the Bulls, unless UB’s back row defense steps up. The Red Flash already have 28 aces on the season and boast four players with four or more.
Duquesne’s 3-2 record similarly comes against less-than-stellar competition, including a 0-3 sweep at the hands of Central Michigan, who UB beat in five sets last season. The Dukes were picked to finish fifth in the Atlantic 10 and have nine freshmen and sophomores on their fifteen-woman roster.
That said, they return five starters and the libero from last year’s team, which went 14-15 on the season. Each of five attackers who have received meaningful swings for Duquesne is hitting above .200, and each setter is averaging ten assists per set. The Dukes could be vulnerable on the back row, as they’ve surrendered more aces than they’ve totaled, and have the lowest digs per set numbers of any of UB’s weekend opponents.
To get a (or a few) victories, UB will need a more consistent performance from their outside hitters, and it would be great to see bigger numbers from the back row. We have video for at least two of the matches this weekend, so we’ll be able to speak much more in depth over the course of the next week.