The UB Volleyball team opened their 2021 season with a rotation that included two freshman, four returning players playing a different position than last season, and just two returning players playing the same position as last season. In addition, senior outside hitter Monika Šimkova and junior libero Jenna Sonnenberg were not available.
And yet, despite these line-up changes, the Bulls forced major conference opponent Syracuse, playing on the Orange’s home court, in front of nearly two dozen screaming fans, to a fifth set tie-breaker. But eventually Buffalo fell, 25-20, 22-25, 25-12, 25-27, 15-9. The two set victories by Buffalo were the first sets they had won against Syracuse since 2012.
The first set was close at 12–12, when Syracuse went on a four point run. Although the Orange couldn’t pull away, the lead remained at about four points the rest of the set. Buffalo trailed 22–20 in the second set, but then Buffalo went on a 5–0 run, the last four points from junior middle blocker Courtney Okwara (pictured above) who registered two blocks and two kills in that run. Prior to that run, Okwara had just one kill and no blocks.
Horrible serve receive passing led the Bulls to an ignominius (yes, that’s a real word) 25–12 defeat in set three. In the fourth set, Buffalo took a 24–22 lead, only to lose the next three points. With Syracuse owning match point, Buffalo then put together their own three point run to take the set. But the Orange were just too much in the fifth set, and pulled away early and were never challenged.
Sophomore outside hitter Milla Malik, the 5th best attacker in the MAC a year ago, and pre-season All-MAC this season, led the Bulls with 16 kills. Sophomore right side Stacia Gollogly picked up 11 kills, her career high. Okwara led the team with 4 blocks. Senior libero Paige Beck had 16 digs and senior defensive specialist Kyndal Bacon had 13 digs. Freshman setter Mandy Leigh had 38 assists in her first collegiate match.
For the record, here is the Bulls rotation today, * indicating a returning player at a position they didn’t play in the previous season:
Setter: Mandy Leigh (Fr)
Outside Hitter: Malik (So)
Outside Hitter: Maria Futey (Fr)
Middle Blocker: Abby Leigh* (Jr)
Middle Blocker: Okwara (Jr)
Right Side: Gollogly* (So)
Libero: Beck* (Sr)
Defensive Specialist: Bacon* (Sr)
- Sister-to-sister: setter Mandy Leigh assisted on five kills (by my count) to older sister Abby , which must have been quite a thrill for both of them.
- In the absence of team captain Sonnenberg, it appeared that freshman Mandy Leigh was chosen as acting team captain. I’m guessing it was an all-around memorable day for Leigh, and the only way it could have been better was with a UB win.
- The broadcast on ACCNX (the new streaming portion of the ACC Network) used only one camera the entire match, and never showed a replay. Worse yet, the on-screen scoreboard listed the visiting team as “BU” . You can’t really blame them for having only one camera, the facility where Syracuse plays their home matches was built long before there was any thought of televising college sports, and (I have been inside this facility) there’s probably only one good place to set up a camera.
- Unlike in the spring, when all players coaches and offcials wore masks the entire match, this year the players did not wear masks. Coaches and officials still wore masks. The COVID rule where teams do not change sides each set is still in effect.
- I’m sure you remember that 2012 UB victory over Syracuse (if for no other reason than because I mention it once a year or more). The Bulls swept the Orange at Alumni Arena in front of over 1,000 fans, a record at that time. After the match, many of the crowd came down onto the court and line-danced the “Wobble” with team. https://twitter.com/ubvolleyball/status/1305858090881998852 and