By RJ Cherpak, Kevin Carroll and Marco Meglio - SPECIAL TO THE CHRONICLE AND STAFF WRITERS
Hofstra volleyball utilized a team effort to beat James Madison University in three consecutive sets Thursday night at the Mack Physical Education Center. The set scores were 25-12, 25-22 and 25-17. The Pride got redemption following the loss to James Madison back on Oct. 18 in Virginia after they lost in three sets.
On the following Friday night, the Pride dropped a five-set classic to the visiting College of Charleston Cougars at the Mack Physical Education Center.
With the win, the Cougars clinched the top seed in next weekend’s CAA Tournament and the right to home-court advantage throughout the tournament.
Hofstra later finished the season on Sunday by defeating conference rival William & Mary in three straight sets. The win caps off a profound season for the Pride where they finished off 26-5 under head coach Emily Mansur. During the final game of the season, the Pride honored the seniors who would be leaving after this season.
Senior Night included names Adama Aja, Lopes da Silva, Jordan Clinglan, Nuria Emily Burke and superstar Kelsie Wills.
Wills has earned high honors and multiple awards in her four years, she’s won the CAA player of the week award 12 times.
She tallied 1,895 career kills in 129 career matches, the most in program history. In addition, she holds Hofstra’s record for kills per set with 3.97. Wills set the example as one of Hofstra’s best volleyball players to come out of the program.
Hofstra came into Thursday’s match against the James Madison Dukes with back-to-back wins against Northeastern and Sacred Heart and the Pride won five out of their last six sets. James Madison also came into the match with momentum as they were on a three match-winning streak.
Hofstra got the crowd into it early as they got off to a quick 5-0 lead to start the match and scored seven of the first eight points before James Madison was forced to call a timeout.
“We love it. I’m sure the players loved it as well, it makes them play better, its very important,” said head coach Emily Mansur regarding the intensity and passion that the fans had on Thursday night.
Senior outside hitter Emily Burke made her presence known early on as she tallied three kills during the match’s opening run while Lopes da Silva finished the first set with seven kills of her own. Hofstra ended up winning the first set by a decisive 13 points. Hofstra finished the first set with an attack percentage of .500 while James Madison had an attack percentage of .129.
Hofstra faced a 20-16 deficit in the second set, and close the set on a 9-2 run and squeezed out a three-point victory, which proved to be the defining moment of the match.
The set went back and forth to start as neither team could create anything larger than a two-point lead all the way up until James Madison broke the tie at 11 and scored three consecutive points. Eventually, Hofstra would go on a 9-2 run to end the set, which was sparked by Kelsey Wills who had five kills during the set-closing run.
The third set had a similar dynamic to the second set as things started tied up at 14 until Hofstra was able to go on a quick 3-0 run thanks to kills from Hannah Klemm and Kelsey Wills. The Pride gradually gained momentum for the rest of the match, as they were able to pull away with an eight-point victory in the third set.
“That was a great team effort, they really worked hard together, they were determined and they really executed,” said Mansur following the team’s victory.
The Pride had 24 hours to rest and gear up for Friday’s critical matchup against College of Charleston to determine which of the two teams would take the top seed in the CAA conference.
When Hofstra and Charleston faced each other back in October, the Pride came out on top in five sets, but the Cougars rolled into town on Friday’s match ready to compete, taking the first set handily, by a 25-14 score. The Cougars rattled off seven points in a row to stretch their lead, and Hofstra never threatened from there, as Charleston grabbed the pivotal first set with ease.
In the second set, the Pride started to showcase the type of play that had led them to the top of the CAA. Both teams battled back and forth to gain an advantage, but in the end, the Pride managed to pull away from Charleston, on the strength of some Cougar miscues and some big kills from Kelsie Wills and Nuria Lopes da Silva. Both teams fought valiantly, but the Pride was able to even things out, claiming the second set by a 25-22 margin.
The intense action continued into the third set, as Hofstra refused to fall into a hole, displaying tremendous resolve in winning the set 25-23 in comeback fashion. Down 21-17 late, with the cheers of the Pride faithful echoing throughout the court, the Pride managed to pull even at 22, winning five out of six points, behind three clutch kills for Lopes da Silva. The Cougars took the next point, but would score no more, as Hofstra ran off a three-point streak to win the set in dramatic style.
With Charleston’s backs to the wall, the Cougars fought back and rallied out to a 6-0 lead en route to a fourth set victory, 25-18. Charleston seemed to have caught a second wind, while the Pride struggled to shut the door on the Cougars. They managed to climb back and make it competitive, but never took the lead, and really never threatened the Cougars as they cruised to victory, and sent this match to the deciding fifth set.
The fifth set was decidedly less dramatic than the sets that had preceded it, as the Cougars claimed the set and match, with a 15-10 victory. The Pride kept it close the whole way, but just couldn’t get the spark necessary to overtake the Cougars, and ultimately fell to defeat. It was an incredible effort on both sides, but only one team could win, and on this night, it was the Cougars claiming victory.
Pacing the Pride was Nuria Lopes da Silva, who had a game-high 19 kills, many of which brought the raucous crowd to their feet. Kelsie Wills had 15 kills and 18 digs, and Emily Burke had 13 kills of her own. Hannah Klemm had an astonishing 51 assists despite the loss.
After Sunday’s pregame Senior Night ceremonies wrapped up, Kelsie Wills and the other seniors set the foundation in the final regular season match against the William & Mary Tribe. In rather easy fashion, the Pride dominated the Tribe every set.
The Pride out-killed the Tribe 45-26 and William & Mary’s chances to win quickly deteriorated. Seniors Kelsie Wills and Emily Burke especially thrived in the match, combining for 25 kills. Pride senior Nuria Lopes da Silva also added nine kills.
When asked about the play of the team head coach Mansur stated, “We passed the ball today… when you complete 65 percent of your passes you’re going to have a chance to run your offense [and execute].”
The match really got out of hand for the Tribe when the Pride won the second set in commanding fashion, 25-9.
Tribe players could not find any rhythm and were often frustrated at the amount of blocked spikes by the Pride. Pride players managed the defensive front extremely well with eight blocks, while William & Mary only put up two.
Hannah Klemm had a nice outing for the Pride as she added 37 assists to go along with her three kills. She was third amongst the team with six digs and had a .750 shooting percentage.
Hofstra finished the season 13-3 in CAA division play. After getting a superb win heading into the CAA tournament, head coach Mansur declared, “It’s a great thing for sure after coming off a loss but we understand that each match starts at 0-0 and that we need to make sure we focus and get these next two wins.”
The Pride will to travel down to Charleston, South Carolina for the CAA tournament The Pride received a first round bye since they clinched the second seed in the CAA standings and start in the semifinals.