A LATE SEASON SURGE EARNS NE-10 PLAYOFF BERTH AND GIVES WARRIORS PLENTY TO LOOK FORWARD TO IN 2014
The Merrimack College women's volleyball team ended the regular Northeast-10 Conference portion of its schedule with a 9-5 record which qualified them for a postseason competition for the first time since 2010. And despite being pegged to finish 12th in the Northeast-10 Conference Preseason Coaches Poll, the Warriors shocked the league and finished in seventh place, qualifying for the NE-10 Championships for the first time in three years in the process.
"I couldn't be more proud of how the girls finished the season and what they have accomplished," said head coach TJ Hajjar. "We earned our way back into the Northeast-10 Championship by beating a couple of great teams down the stretch. The team could have easily thrown in the towel halfway through the season, but the confidence and warrior-type attitude kept us afloat. "
Just getting to the playoffs would have been enough for most teams who enjoyed the season-to-season turnaround that Merrimack did, but the Navy and Gold were not satisfied.
Earning the No. 7 seed in the eight-team NE-10 Championships, Merrimack embarked on an incredible run through the league's postseason tournament, stunning second-seeded Saint Rose and toppling sixth-seeded Stonehill on the way to qualifying for the NE-10 Finals for the first time since 2008.
Facing two-time league champion New Haven on the road, the Warriors threw everything htey had at the heavily favored Chargers. Trailing by a set heading to the fourth, Merrimack battled back to send the contest into a decisive fifth set.
In the final frame, Merrimack went toe-to-toe with New Haven before eventually bowing out and settling for the league runner-up title.
Even with that loss to New Haven, the Warriors had one of their best seasons statistically in recent memory. Junior outside hitter Stephanie Sheehan (Smithtown, N.Y.) finished the season ranking third in the all-time rankings with 1130 total kills and leads the single-season rankings with 466 kills. Freshman setter Tara Stuhr (Huntington Beach, Calif.) finished second in the single-season rankings with 1,219 total assists and 10.24 assists per game.
One of the main reasons for the Warriors' success this fall came in the form of their challenging early season schedule. Merrimack traveled to Texas to partake in the Hilltopper-Rattler Classic, facing off against some of hte top teams in the country. Despite coming out of the tournament winless, Merrimack built itself a strong foundation for the remainder of hte season.
Merrimack's first win of the season was on the road against non-conference foe Molloy. After a tough three-set loss to Nyack, the Warriors came together and defeated both Saint Anselm and Post University at home. The Navy and Gold ended the month of September with an important five-set win over Southern New Hampshire.
That win over SNHU sparked Merrimack's second-half surge after starting the month of October 3-0. Entering a key stretch of the season tied with a number of teams in the league standings, Merrimack sewed up a spot in the NE-10 Championships with back-to-back wins against Le Moyne and Saint Rose. The Warriors wrapped up the year by winning four of their final five matches, building up plenty of momentum that sparked them to their run to the league finals.
Merrimack was led offensively all season long by Sheehan, who finished first in the conference in kills per set with 3.92 and also averaged 2.76 digs per set, good for second on the team. She also became the first player in program history to win the AVCA/Sports Import DII National Player of the Week back in October.
Senior Jackie Jones (Amherst, N.H.) and junior Corrine Gosselin (Lawrence, Mass.) both put together a solid season offensively, averaging 2.32 and 1.77 kills per set, respectively. Gosselin continued to lead the team defensively, as she racked up 61 total blocks on the season while averaging 0.51 blocks per set.
Jones was a major component on both ends, ranking second on the team with 234 kills and a .235 hitting percentage. She ended her career with 1423 total attacks, 61 assists, 43 service aces, 342 digs, and 103 total blocks.
Sophomore libero Madison Burke (San Jose, Calif.) also was a key component for Merrimack, finishing the season averaging 5.11 digs per set which to lead the team in that category. The sophomore libero was second on the team with 31 assists, while posting a career-high six assists in a single game. She also had 46 total digs this season.
Stuhr, Northeast-10 Rookie of the Year, played in all 32 matches for the Warriors and finished the season averaging 10.24 assists and 1.93 digs per set. As a freshman, she posted seven double-doubles and recorded a career-high 58 assists. The Huntington Beach native was also a five-time NE-10 Conference Rookie of the Week.
The Warriors also received great play from freshman Jennifer Cain (Melrose, Mass.) and Jocelyn McLain (Fort Collins, Colo.). Cain finished her first campaign averaging 1.51 kills and 2.26 digs per set. She also recorded four double-doubles and posted a career-high 14 kills and 24 digs.
McLain landed 141 kills (1.81 k/s), seven assists and 10 service aces during her rookie campaign. The Fort Collins, Colo. Native posted her first double-double, 15 kills and 10 digs, against Mercy.
"Next year looks very promising as we return 14 players and return most of our starting lineup," said Hajjar. "I would have to say our offense was by far our strongest suite this year but moving forward we need to remember to keep the consistency going and turn close losses into wins."
The 2013 campaing will go down as one of the best in recent memory, and losing just one starter from this season, the Warriors are poised for even greater heights next fall.
This is the sixth in a series of recaps summarizing a successful fall season at Merrimack.