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Volleyball Spring 2021 Preview

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The Spring 2021 UB Volleyball season begins on Friday. A year ago, the Bulls won 7 of their last 10 matches, and defeated many of the top teams in the MAC, to earn the #7 seed in the MAC Tournament. They went on to win a match in the MAC Tournament “round of 8”, for the first time in program history.

But, five seniors from that team, all of whom saw regular playing time, have graduated, leaving huge holes to fill in the offense. The good news is that most players return who contributed large parts to the defense, and the incoming class received an Honorable Mention award from PrepVolleyball.com.

Setter
At the setter position, Buffalo will have to replace four-year starter Scout McLerran, who officially finishes 4th on the UB career assists list (although you could make the case that McLerran actually finished first in the rally scoring era). Buffalo has two setters on the roster: sophomore Emma Puzausky and junior college transfer Kyndal Bacon. Puzausky appeared in 11 matches as a freshman, mostly in a two-setter offense with McLerran. She picked up a career high 21 assists in the one match she started last year. Bacon transfers from Colby Community College, where she was twice named to the All-League First Team, and averaged 9.23 assists per set.

Outside Hitter
Buffalo’s outside hitters picked up 739 kills a year ago, and the players who accounted for 736 of them have graduated (Rachel Sanks and Polina Prokudina). That leaves Buffalo with almost no collegiate experience at the outside hitter position.

Sophomore outside hitter Morgan Verheyen returns. Her senior season in high school was lost due to injury, and she played in only 6 matches a year ago for the Bulls, and picked up 3 kills. 5–9 freshman outside hitter Milla Malik comes to the Bulls from Waunakee High School where as a senior her team was 41-8, and she recorded 535 kills and 65 aces. Malik was named First Team All-State and conference Player of the Year. Stacia Gollogly, a 6–1 freshman outside hitter, comes to UB from Boonsboro (MD) High School where she was named First Team All-Conference her junior and senior year, and to the All-Decade team in Washington County.

Right Side
At the right side position, junior Monika Šimkova returns. A year ago, she was third on the Bulls in both blocks and kills, picking up a season high of 18 kills against Akron. Freshman Emma Gielas, a 6–0 right side from Loveland, OH, has picked up some high praise from teammates and coaches in UB’s fall practices. Gielas hit 0.390 as a senior and racked up 310 kills and was named First-Team All-Conference as a senior.

Middle Blocker
The Bulls are well stocked at the middle blocker position, with five players. The team’s top two blockers from a year ago return, senior Lexi Nordmann and sophomore Abby Leigh. Nordmann finished 9th in the MAC in blocks per set (0.91) and 6th in hitting percentage (0.335). Leigh finished 8th in the MAC in aces per set (0.29) and second on the Bulls in blocks per set (0.80).

Sophomore middle blocker Courtney Okwara played in four matches a year ago and recorded a high of 5 blocks. 6–2 freshman Lauren Valentic, from Peters Township (PA) High School, is the all-time blocks leader. Valentic’s senior year she recorded 294 kills, 87 blocks, and 34 aces in 14 matches. Olivia DeBortoli is a 6–2 redshirt freshman who missed the season last year due to injury. Her senior year at Shenendehowa (NY) HS, she was named First-Team All-State and scored 244 kills, 180 blocks, and hit .388.

Back Row
Junior libero Paige Beck played in every set a year ago, and led the team with 3.76 digs per set. Sophomore defensive specialist Jenna Sonnenberg played in all but two sets a year ago and recorded 1.38 digs per set. Freshman defensive specialist Emilie Davis joins the team from Vista (CA) High School, where as a senior she recorded 475 digs and 67 aces.

The Schedule
The MAC schedule will be quite different this year. To reduce travel costs, all MAC teams will play matches on back-to-back days, both matches against the same opponent, except for one opposing team which will not be faced on back-to-back days (for UB, the exception is Akron). The Bulls open at four-time defending regular season champion Miami (OH) on January 22 and January 23; and the next week they open their home schedule against MAC Tournament Champion Ball State on January 28 and January 29.

There is no East or West division in the MAC, and only the top four teams will advance to the MAC Tournament. Since the NCAA Volleyball Tournament will contain only 48 teams, any MAC team that does not win the MAC Tournament is unlikely to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

Notes:

  • Head coach Scott Smith begins his second year at the helm. He is joined by assistant coach David Beck (also in his second year at UB) and assistant coach Whitney Miller (in her first year at UB).
  • In November, Smith and his wife Joan had their first child, named Cal. (photos)
  • Why don’t we play matches against Akron on back-to-back days? That would imbalance the schedule ... Buffalo would play either 10 home matches or 12 home matches; so by playing Akron once on the road and once at home, the Bulls have 11 home matches and 11 road matches.
  • As of this time, no live streaming of MAC volleyball has been announced except for matches involving Eastern Michigan. Hopefully more MAC volleyball will be streamed; stay tuned, check your local listings. Right now, there’s not even any live stats listed for most MAC games.