Buffalo opened the second day of the Syracuse Tournament with a 3–0 loss to Albany (NY), in which the Bulls’ serve receive was poor. Albany registered 12 aces, and even when the Bulls made a pass, it was often a weak pass, and Buffalo could only manage a 0.126 hitting percentage, and didn’t score 20 points in any of the three sets.
Next, they faced UConn, a team which had previously defeated Albany. Buffalo, passing better, took sets one and three, while the Huskies took sets two and four. The two teams then battled hard, and produced a whale of a fifth set, which needed extra points to decide the match.
In the end, the young Bulls (5 freshmen or sophomores in the rotation) made fewer errors than the more experienced Connecticut team (only one sophomore and no freshmen in the rotation), and came away with a 19–17 victory in the fifth set.
Buffalo took a 7–4 lead in the fifth set, using a kill from junior middle blocker Abby Leigh, and then an out-of-system cross-court kill from sophomore outside hitter Milla Malik. Connecticut would then score three in a row to tie the set. And from there on the match proceeded in “Full Nail-biter Mode”™, neither team opening a lead of more than two the rest of the way. And the rest of the way, Buffalo and Connecticut produced number of long rallies, filled with great one-handed digs, diving digs, vicious attack, blocks, covers, pancakes, out-of-system kills, and yes, a few mistakes.
Buffalo’s first match point came at 14–13 after a Connecticut service error. But Abby Leigh’s attempt to win the match was blocked by UConn. Buffalo would pick up another match point to make the match 15–14 on a kill from freshman outside hitter Maria Futey. But UConn would score the next two points on kills from Kennadie Jake-Turner to have their first match point at 16–15, but then UConn’s Kaylee Parker served the ball into the net.
Malik put the Bulls ahead 17–16 with another cross-court kill, but Abby Leigh’s serve went into the net. Malik scored the next point, her fifth kill of the set, to give Buffalo their fourth match point, and this time things went Buffalo’s way. A double block by Buffalo’s junior middle blocker Courtney Okwara and sophomore right side Stacia Gollogly went straight down to the UConn side of the court and landed barely inside the sideline, and the Bulls had earned their first victory of the season.
In that fifth set, Buffalo’s serve receive and passing was sharp, and they wound up hitting 0.333, their best attack percentage of any set in the tournament. UConn had five service errors in the set.
Malik had 19 kills (she has led the team in kills in each match of the tournament). Abby Leigh had 12 kills, a team high 5 blocks and an ace. Freshman setter Mandy Leigh (Abby’s younger sister) had 38 assists, tying her career high, plus 2 aces and 2 blocks. Senior defensive specialist Kyndal Bacon had 16 digs, Futey had 13 digs, and Mandy Leigh and freshman libero Hannah Jacoby (making her first career start) had 11 digs.
- Sister sister double block: On the second point of the third set against Albany, Abby Leigh and Mandy Leigh recorded their first joint double block.
- To put the strong performance of Abby Leigh into perspective, let’s flash back to her freshman year, when she mostly played middle blocker. In one memorable weekend, she tallied 17 blocks in 8 sets (including 11 blocks in one match), as part of a very strong performance by her for the entire year. Her sophomore year, she was switched to outside hitter (and later to defensive specialist), and was less effective. This year, back at the middle blocker position, she has picked up right where she left off her freshman year, and is second on the team in points scored and leads in blocks.
- Buffalo’s serve receive percentage (serves by the opponent that are not aces) is 0.861; a year ago it was 0.928.
- Buffalo did not win a match a year ago until their 11th match.
- Junior libero Jenna Sonnenberg, team captain, was not in uniform and was using crutches before the match. Senior outside hitter Monika Šimkova was not with the team.
- Buffalo plays next week at Alabama, in a tournament with the host team, plus Southern Mississippi and Troy.