The Long Island University women’s volleyball team’s season came to an end in the opening round of the NCAA tournament despite a valiant effort against one of the nation’s top programs.
The Blackbirds fell to second-seeded Penn State, 25–21, 25–21, 25–14, in State College last Friday. The Nittany Lions are a perennial power, four-straight national women’s volleyball titles from 2007–2010.
Annika Foit, the conference player of the year, led the Blackbirds with 15 kills and seven digs and Vera Djuric dished out 29 assists, earning the respect of their opponents even in defeat.
“There’s a reason that they had the season that they had,” said Penn State coach and Hall of Famer Russ Rose. “Their kids play hard and they compete, and they don’t get rattled.”
It is a big reason for LIU’s continued dominance of the Northeastern Conference for the second-straight year. They went undefeated in conference play during the regular season and took home the post-season crown. It is the school’s eight title in the last 10 years.
“I think the conference tournament had the most valiant matches we played all year,” said Blackbird coach Kyle Robinson. “The girls were on, they were all sharp. They were really trying to play as a team and get themselves back-to-back championships.”
The Blackbirds (23–8) succeeded in doing just that, and graduate student Jessica Rice feels that teamwork has improved.
“The season as a whole was a very great season for the team,” Rice said. “We were able to beat some really big teams, we worked really well together, and we communicated as a whole a lot better than we have in previous years, which is really great to see.”
Rice will be the lone loss for the team this offseason as the sixth-year player participated in her last game Friday. Rice’s first two years were ended by injuries resulting in her extended tenure on the team. Robinson lauded her ability not just to return from injury, but to set an example for young players coming in.
“She’s been here six years, so her leadership off the court and experience with how we do things is invaluable,” Robinson said. “She was always teaching the freshmen how to compete and play the game in their head, and showing how to come back from injury and still be successful.”
For Rice, the fundamentals that the Blackbirds displayed were the difference-maker all season against teams that had an advantage from a pure stature standpoint.
“We have a lot of girls who are technically good at volleyball,” she said. “The skill is there, and although we may be smaller than other teams, our technical skills put us up there.”