The signs of improvement continue for UB Volleyball, as they picked up their first victory of the season, a 3–2 win (25–23, 21–25, 25–21, 21–25 and 15–7) at Eastern Michigan. So the Bulls reach the half-way point of the season with a 1–10 record.
The Bulls were led by their dynamic freshmen on the front line, outside hitter Milla Malik and right side Emma Gielas. Both set career highs in kills, Malik with 19 and Gielas with 21. Malik added 17 digs and 5 block assists (to lead the team in blocking), both also career highs for Malik. Sophomore libero Jenna Sonnenberg had 19 digs, her career high. Junior setter Kyndal Bacon had 51 assists, her career high in a Buffalo uniform.
After the match, Buffalo coach Scott Smith told ESPN that a part of the team’s success was that they spread out the offense with fast sets to the wings, which did not allow the EMU middle blockers to get in position, leading to the big numbers from Malik and Gielas.
The Bulls led or were tied the entire first set, and held off an EMU late rally to take the last two points and win. In that set, Buffalo recorded 6 aces (two by Bacon and two by junior outside hitter Monika Šimkova) and only two service errors, by far better than anything they had done this year. Buffalo trailed almost the entire second set, and hit only 0.156, their lowest of the match.
The Bulls would fall behind 9–2 in the third set, tied the set at 14, and then rode that momentum to win the set by 4. And then in the 4th set, the roles were reversed, Buffalo led early, EMU tied the set at 14 and rode the momentum to a 4 point win.
In the fifth set, tied at 5, Buffalo ran off four straight points, all on kills (two by Gielas, one by Malik and one by sophomore middle blocker Courtney Okwara). After an EMU point, Buffalo opened up a 13–6 lead, and after an EMU kill, Šimkova’s attack off the block landed to give Buffalo the match. The Bulls did not make an attack error in the fifth set, while EMU made 4.
It should be noted that in the first four sets, Malik and Gielas both struggled with their serving — they had good velocity on their serves but the accuracy wasn’t there, and Malik had 5 service errors while Gielas had 3. But in the fifth set, both got their serves in, and this contributed to EMU’s struggles in the set.
- The ESPN announcers explained Malik’s unavailability in the first 6 matches this year. She travelled with the team to the opening weekend’s matches at Miami. She started not feeling well, had to go to the emergency room, and wound up having an appendectomy there Oxford, OH.
- Sophomore outside hitter Abby Leigh was not in uniform.
- Overall, Buffalo had 11 aces compared to only 2 for EMU. The Eagles had 10 blocks, while Buffalo had 7.
- Bacon has been a very aggressive offensive setter, despite the fact that she stands just 5–8. She picked up four kills in the match, including a key one in the third set when the Bulls came back from a 9–2 deficit. It was sort of a trademark move for Bacon, just setting the ball over the net to an empty spot on the floor, which she has done many times this year.
- It was a very weak effort by ESPN, even compared to the usual standards of ESPN+ volleyball. There were no in-game replays, other than when there was a challenge or when they were going into a commercial or coming out of a commercial. At one point, a graphic appeared explaining what could be challenged by the coaches, except it was the football challenge system. Late in the fifth set, a graphic appeared taking up over 3⁄4 of the screen for about four seconds blocking out the action.