Last season the Terriers finished tied for fifth in the NEC, missing out on a trip to the playoffs. Typically a program with modest expectations, the Terriers field a team this 2016 season which provides fans legitimate hope for an NEC playoff berth.
A trip to the playoffs would mark the Terriers’ first in two decades.
Last season, the Terriers finished the season by winning three of their final five contests, including their final two on back-to-back days, the last of which knocked off the playoff-bound Sacred Heart Pioneers.
Senior outside hitter Domenique Gerard returns as the Terriers’ first NEC All-Conference player since 2010, after being named to the league’s second following an outstanding season.
The Newark native finished tied for fourth in the conference with 2.99 kills per game (287 total), and seventh in points per game with 3.22 (309 total).
“Our goal has always been to get to the playoffs, but this time we feel that it’s very realistic,” Gerard said of the Terriers’ playoff aspirations. “We’re seeded higher, and people are starting to think we can threaten other teams and win.”
A big addition to the Terriers has been junior college transfer Aleksandra Gilgoric, who including this season has two years remaining of NCAA eligibility.
A former NJCAA Region XIV Player of the Year, Gilgoric has already established herself amongst the NEC’s best outside hitters by ranking in the top ten in kills per game with 2.7 (139 total).
The Terriers endured a tough road to begin their ’16 campaign, but raised their level of play by winning two of three contests heading into NEC weekend.
In their first conference showing of the season against Sacred Heart, the Terriers came out with an unmatched spirit and motivation to take down the Pioneers for the second straight time, sprinting out to a big lead in the first set before capping off the 25-14 victory.
The Terriers were up 1-0 on the Pio’s before a Sacred Heart surge propelled them to a huge second set lead. They never looked back, finishing the Terriers 25-12, and tying up the match at 1-1.
It was a completely different match-up for the next two sets, both of which were extremely tight, back-and-forth affairs. Unfortunately for the Terriers, the Pio’s finished both sets on top, albeit narrowly, 25-23 and 25-22, respectively, placing the Terriers at 0-1 to begin NEC play.
In their second match-up of the weekend, the Terriers went head to head with the Fairleigh Dickinson Knights. In what began as easy pickings for the Terriers with back-to-back set wins at 25-14 and 25-20, the Knights then stormed back to take the next two sets at 25-19 and 25-18 to force a fifth and final game to decide to match.
After closing out the fourth with a 7-0 run, all control was in the hands of the Knights, or so it seemed. That is until the Terriers actually returned to the floor and dismantled FDU 15-7 for their first NEC win of 2016.
“With both games, I’m really proud of how we played,” Gerard said of her Terriers’ performance. “The Sacred Heart game could’ve gone either way, but they played a little bit better later in the game. We lacked a little focus and execution today in the fourth set, but once we knew it was time to win in the fifth, we were able to finish and I’m proud of that.”
Over the weekend, the Terriers had some players lead the way with big-time performances, chief among them the aforementioned Gerard, who recorded 30 kills in the combined two matches, including 21 against the Knights, which tied a career high set last year.
Gilgoric added 27 kills, 16 of which were in Sunday’s victory over FDU.
“Honestly, I love playing with Aleksandra, she plays with a very aggressive style, she loves nailing the ball to ground,” Gerard said of Gilgoric. “She adds a whole other dimension to our team,”
Freshman setter Macy Kurtz is coming off a huge weekend, which included a 51-assist output in the FDU win, her season high by far. Senior middle hitter Niehely Sosa added 17 kills over the weekend, 12 of whom were against FDU.
“Macy is doing a great job as a setter, she takes direction very well, she does exactly what she needs to do,” Gerard said. “Niehely is attacking, putting points on the scoreboard, and is still consistent. Overall, I’m happy with our performance.”
The Terriers will return to action to take on their bitter rival and NEC volleyball powerhouse LIU-Brooklyn Blackbirds in their next outing.
The Blackbirds recently formed a mini-dynasty by taking home three straight NEC titles from 2012-2014, and fell short of a fourth straight last season after losing to the Robert Morris Colonials in the finals.
In non-conference play, the Blackbirds, who are having a down year by all accounts, went 3-10 and recently split their opening NEC matches against FDU (3-0 win) and Sacred Heart (3-1 loss).
“I definitely want to beat them. They’ve always been a solid team, they’re always going to challenge you, but this year I feel like we can do the same thing in return,” a confident Gerard said. “They’re not the same LIU as year’s past.
“I want to put a little fear in them, but we can’t underestimate them either,” she added. “We need to put the ball on them and play them like we know they want to play us.”
The Brooklyn battle will take place at 1 p.m. at St. Francis College on Saturday, October 1.
Follow Bryan Fonseca on Twitter at @BryanFonsecaNY.