By Mike Rudin and Nick Mazzarella - SPORTS EDITOR AND STAFF WRITER
Pride volleyball’s breakout season stands to lead the pack as the premiere, must-see Hofstra fall sport in 2014. The team stands at 16-2 overall after tacking on two more wins in conference play against Towson University and Delaware University. The Pride now excels to new heights with a seven-match winning streak, a season high.
Emily Mansur is making remarkable strides with the team in her first year as head coach. Hofstra volleyball stands in first place with a 4-0 CAA record. The only other fall sport to currently stand in first place are the men’s soccer team, yet men’s soccer has a while to go to get a good reading. They’re 1-0 in conference play.
Although the other three main fall sports in standings (women’s soccer, men’s soccer and field hockey) have played well with winning records on the year, ranging from one to three games over .500, these teams come nowhere close to Pride volleyball. They stand at 14 games over .500.
This past week, Hofstra took on tough CAA competition, facing the Towson Tigers on Friday and the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens on Sunday.
At Friday’s matchup, it was almost certain that Hofstra and Towson were headed to a fifth set. It was Hofstra’s first CAA home match of the season. The Pride trailed Towson, 20-12, in set four on Friday night. But Hofstra came all the way back, tying and eventually winning the set 27-25.
“It’s very hard to be behind by eight points against a good team and be able to come back, so that took a lot of nerve and a lot of maturity from our players,” said head coach Emily Mansur.
Hofstra improved to 15-2 overall and 3-0 in the CAA, while Towson fell to 14-3 (1-2 CAA). Set scores were 28-26, 23-25, 25-23, 27-25.
Hofstra held an 11-6 lead in the first set. Coming out of a timeout, Towson responded and took a 15-14 lead, causing the Pride to call a timeout of their own. After a 22-22 tie, the teams exchanged points until senior middle blocker Adama Aja’s solo block gave Hofstra a 28-26 win.
The Pride led early again in set No. 2, tallying three blocks to gain an 8-3 advantage. Towson responded again with a 13-5 run and never trailed after going ahead in the set. Asked about the free balls that her team gave Towson to allow the Tigers to run their offense, Mansur said there were “too many.”
In the third set, Mansur subbed in freshman outside hitter Brianna Montgomery shortly after Towson scored six unanswered points. She provided a spark off the bench with four kills in the set – the last of which gave Hofstra a 20-16 lead. The Tigers scored another four unanswered, but two late kills by senior outside hitter Kelsie Wills and a service ace by sophomore setter Hannah Klemm helped lift the Pride to a 25-23 win.
Much of the final set was all Towson, who forced Hofstra to use both of its timeouts over a three-point span.
The Tigers came out of the breaks, extending their lead to eight. But a 9-1 Hofstra run tied the score at 21. Later, both tied at 25 and then Pride scored two straight points to win the set and match over Towson. The match brought the Pride to their sixth straight win. Klemm stuffed the stat sheet with 48 assists, 8 total blocks and 6 digs.
“Hannah is really helping us transform not-the-best passing into an offense that can be run,” said Mansur. “She did a phenomenal job.”
Towson’s outside hitters Haley Pa’akaula and Saitaua Losia combined for 27 kills, but Hofstra’s blockers held them both to hitting percentages below .100.
“We studied them in every single aspect this past week,” said Mansur. “We mimicked them every practice because we know they are their stronger weapons.”
Hofstra is off to its second-best start through 17 matches in program history (16-1 in 1988). Mansur said that it’s “great” and “beautiful” to have wins, but she stands by her day-by-day mentality. “We keep wins in the back of our minds and focus on the next one that we have to get,” she said.
Mansur’s mentality didn’t change when Sunday came around and the Pride were set to take on Delaware.
The first set was the Pride’s strongest in the match. They outscored the Fightin’ Blue Hens 25-13. During the moment when Delaware was down one point 5-6, Hofstra scorched Delaware scoring seven unanswered points to propel the Pride to a 13-5 lead. Later in the set, Hofstra managed to keep chipping away and extending their lead to nine points ahead at 19-10, then by ten at 21-11, by eleven at 12-23 and finally by twelve at 25-13.
Hofstra executed well with 12 kills and with a .435 attack percentage in the set while only committing two errors. Delaware couldn’t keep up committing six errors and scoring 10 kills, plus their .138 attack percentage fell extremely short to Hofstra’s.
Once taking a 1-0 lead in the match, Hofstra stayed relentless by outscoring Delaware 25-18 in the second set. Delaware kept within reach for majority first part of the set, but the Pride found some separation to take a steady lead at 20-15. Delaware came back to get within three points but Hofstra finished the set, scoring four unanswered points to win the second set at 25-18.
Hofstra improved their kill/error ratio in the second set by scoring 13 kills and limiting to one error all set. Hofstra’s attack percentage dropped to .387 but worked better as a unit, putting up 31 team assists, eight more than the first set. Delaware improved slightly, starting with their attack percentage going up to .235, bumping up their kills to 13 in the second set, and limiting errors to five.
Hofstra set to end the match with a 2-0 lead but the Fightin’ Blue Hens retaliated in the third set with their backs against the wall. The offensive numbers flipped for both teams. Hofstra committed seven errors in the third set which is the highest amount in a set in the entire match. Their attack percentage dropped to .200, luckily their kills improved slightly to 14. Delaware improved their kills to 15, limited their errors to four, and increased their attack percentage to .324.
Delaware managed to slightly get by as both teams stayed within two points of each other until the Delaware Fightin’ Blue Hens take a three point lead 21-18. The Pride fought back within two points at 24-22 until Delaware’s Chandler Bryant shot the set-winning kill, bringing the final to 25-22.
Now, still holding the lead 2-1, Hofstra was determined to finish the match in the fourth set. The Pride’s execution in the fourth set resembled the first two. They scored 16 kills, dropped the number of errors to four, and brought their attack percentage to .414. Delaware dropped in each category compared to the third set to 13 kills, 5 errors and a .276 attack percentage.
In the last set, Delaware took a 14-10 at one point but Hofstra outscored the Fightin’ Blue Hens 13-6 to take a three point lead at 23-20. Delaware got within one but Hofstra scored the necessary two points to take series and match, winning it in four sets. This improved their record to 16-2, and their winning streak to seven straight games.
Hofstra will face CAA rival the Northeastern Huskies on Wednesday at 7:00 p.m. at the Mack Physical Education Center. Then the Pride will travel down to South Carolina to battle College of Charleston on Friday at 7:00 p.m.