Kaboom — the UB Volleyball team is blowing up the MAC.
The UB volleyball juggernaut continued to roll through the top teams in the MAC on Saturday night at Alumni Arena. Buffalo faced Miami, who entered the match with a 9 game winning streak and the top record in the MAC at 12–2, and the Bulls came away with — you guessed it — another five set victory, this time on senior night. This gives the Bulls a 6–2 record in their last 8 matches, defeating five of the top teams in the MAC during that stretch. They are playing as well or better than any team in the MAC; and you could make the argument that this is the finest sustained stretch of volleyball ever played by a UB team in the MAC era. It's even more surprising since the Bulls started the MAC season 1–5.
The win also moves Buffalo's magic number to advancing to the MAC Tournament down to 1. A victory by the Bulls in their last two matches, or an Eastern Michigan loss in their last two matches, puts the Bulls in the tournament for the third straight year (a record). The Bulls have never won a quarterfinal match in the MAC Tournament, but the way they are playing, a deep run into the tournament is a real possibility.
Buffalo was led by senior outside hitter Rachel Sanks, who picked up her career high 24 kills in her last appearance at Alumni Arena. Sanks wasn't just collecting a lot of kills, she was absolutely ripping the ball, with tremendous accuracy (hitting 0.400) and velocity (I would say she led the team in velocity last night as well). She was helped by a nearly perfect performance by senior setter Scout McLerran, whose sets were exactly where Sanks (and the other pin hitters) needed them. McLerran moved into fourth place on the all-time UB career assist list during the second set.
Buffalo would take the first set 25–22 after opening up a 21–14 led and then holding off a Redhawks comeback. Sanks had 7 kills in the first set. In the second set, won by Miami 25–18, the Buffalo serves did not put enough stress on their opponents, and the Redhawks made perfect passes and had no trouble running their offense, hitting 0.500 in the second set.
Things were going the same during the early parts of the third set, with Miami using perfect passing and taking a 10–6 lead. So what did Buffalo do? They changed the way they were serving. In what is the turning point of the match, Buffalo began serving short to Miami. After a kill by McLerran, she then sent two short serves perfectly over the net for aces, the second one untouched. Short serves are like a pitcher throwing a change-up, it catches the opponent by surprise, and makes your regular deliveries just a little more effective.
Although that change didn't help Buffalo win the third set (they lost 25–23), it paid dividends the rest of the match, as the Bulls executed the short serves perfectly, disrupting the Miami offense; the Redhawks hit over 0.400 in sets two and three, but couldn't hit over 0.200 in the remaining sets. In set four, Buffalo's improved serving help Buffalo take the set 25–18, with freshman defensive specialist Jenna Sonnenberg picking up a short serve ace late in the fourth set.
With a crowd of 538 (that's huge for volleyball) looking on, this set up a pulsating and very loud fifth set. The Bulls took a 5–1 lead, using another short serve ace from Sonnenberg and two kills from sophomore right side Monika Šimkova. Miami would close to 7–6, and then Buffalo ran off three straight points, using a kill by junior middle blocker Lexi Nordmann and a kill by senior outside hitter Polina Prokudina and a ball handling error by Miami to go ahead 10–6. Sanks then picked up three kills on the next five plays, the last being a vicious cross-court kill. One more kill from Šimkova, and then another short serve ace from Sonnenberg ended the match. And the Bulls were all smiles on senior night.
UB Volleyball celebrates senior night win over Miami
McLerran finished with 56 assists. Prokudina had 14 kills, Šimkova had 13 and Nordmann had 11. Sophomore defensive specialist Paige Beck had 16 digs, while Prokudina had 11, and Sonnenberg and McLerran had 10. Freshman middle blocker Abby Leigh had 5 blocks, the seventh straight match that Leigh has led the Bulls in blocks, while Sanks had 3.
- Prokudina, whose family is in Russia, was escorted at senior night by former UB assistant coach Adam McLamb. Prokudina's family sent a message to her, which was played on the video board, beginning with her grandparents, followed by her mother, father, brother and sister, all of whom wore blue University at Buffalo tee shirts.
- McLerran's mother Kandi Brown wants to know where McLerran would rank on the all-time career assist list, if we account somehow for the fact that before the 2008 season, NCAA played sets to 30 points, while now they play sets to 25 points. Hmmm ... doing simple math, and multiplying career leader Amy Brown's 4349 assists times 25/30, this is 3624 assists, below McLerran's current total of 3736. Second place on the list is Lindsay Schlegl, who played one year with sets played to 30 points and then three years with 25 point sets; multiplying one quarter of her 3889 assists times 25/30 and leaving the other 3/4 of her assists unchanged, that gives 3727 assists. In third place on the career assist list is Barb Tinus with 3848 assists, who played before the rally scoring era, and statistics are not comparable to those in the rally scoring era. Yikes! In terms of assists per set, McLerran is similarly ahead of Amy Brown, 9.65 assists per set to 8.44.
- Senior middle blocker Kristina Nieves was left on the court to serve the last point of the second set, instead of rotating out as she usually does. Nieves had served once previously in her UB career, and scored an ace against Butler in 2018. This was a nice gesture by UB coach Scott Smith, giving Nieves an extra chance to appear on the court on her senior night. Nieves' serve landed about three inches long.
- Sonnenberg, who hasn't served a lot recently, set a career high with 4 aces, three coming on short serves. She had only three aces the rest of the season.
- Former UB setter Vanessa Marinelli attended the two games over the weekend.
- Fashion update: both Smith and assistant coach David Beck looked very sharp wearing ties for the first time. Assistant coach Kaysie Shebeneck also looked sharp, but since my ability to describe women's clothing is poor, let's just leave it as "looked sharp".
- Buffalo plays its last two matches on the road, at Ohio on November 15, and at Kent State of November 16. Buffalo lost to both teams earlier this season during Buffalo's 1–5 start in the MAC (losing to Ohio in five sets, 16–14 in the fifth set). Ohio is 7–7 (same record as UB) while Kent is 6–8.
- Eastern Michigan, now 5–9 on the season, the team that has to win out to possibly knock UB out of the MAC tournament if UB loses their final two matches, plays Ball State (9–5) and Toledo (2–12) to finish their season.