#3 Merrimack Athletics Moment of 2013-14: Women's Volleyball Shocks League with Run to NE-10 Final
The Merrimack College Athletic Department is unveiling the top-10 moments of 2013-14 over the month of June. Join us as we count down some of the most memorable moments of the past academic year!
Setting The Scene
Rebuilding years are never fun, but the Merrimack College volleyball team was forced to endure them in recent seasons.
But head coach T.J. Hajjar never lost faith, and entering his third season felt his Warriors were on the rise and could put a serious scare into the Northeast-10 Conference. After all, the team returned a core group of players and boasted his most talented recruiting class yet. The ingredients were all there to form perhaps the program's best season since back-to-back trips to the NCAA Tournament and NE-10 Final back in 2008 and 2009.
For teams as young as Merrimack was, slow starts often threaten to derail a season before it even gets going. The Warriors endured one, dropping their first five games and finishing the month of September at just 4-7 overall.
Still, progress was being made, and the team knew it. They stayed hungry, never lost focus and motivated each other to be greater and to strive for more with each and every passing match. The results began to reflect that, as Merrimack won three in a row to open October and closed out the month with three wins in five tries, as the team truly began to gain traction when the best teams always do – at the end of the year.
The Warriors kept rolling in early November, at one point winning four straight to clinch the program's first NE-10 Championship appearance since 2010 as the team finished seventh in the conference's regular season standings.
But just how far the Warriors would go in the conference tournament relied on their will, work ethic and, most importantly, belief in one another. It would take an upset-filled, magical postseason run for a shot at the program's first-ever NE-10 tournament title. It was the perfect opportunity for the team, which had already won five more matches than the previous season, to show just how far they had come from a 5-22 season in 2011 and 10-20 record in 2012.
As it turned out, Merrimack would be as opportunistic as anyone could have expected.
Merrimack's NE-10 Championship run began on the road in Albany, New York, where they would face second-seeded Saint Rose – a team that they dominated in a 3-1 win at home during Homecoming Weekend – in the quarterfinal round.
This time, the Golden Knights would not go down as easily, even after falling behind by two sets. Saint Rose respond with wins in sets No. 3 and No. 4, prompting a decisive fifth set. Each side exchanged points before Merrimack opened up a two-point lead midway through the fifth frame. Saint Rose would pull ahead by a point one last time before the Warriors roared ahead with four straight points to take control of the match and secure their first postseason win since 2008.
Brimming with confidence after their quarterfinal upset, Merrimack faced sixth-seeded Stonehill in the semifinals, who pulled an upset of their own in the opening round. For the second-straight match, the Warriors opened up a two-set lead, but unlike the quarterfinals, Stonehill would only cut the deficit to 2-1 before Merrimack wrapped up their semifinal victory in four sets, setting up a date against three-time champion New Haven in the Final.
Considered a longshot to even make it to the NE-10 Championship, let alone go toe-to-toe with the New Haven, the Warriors gave everything the Chargers could handle, answering a first-set loss with a win in the second set, and then again staving off elimination with a heart-stopping 28-26 win in the fourth set, sending the league championship to a fifth and final frame.
There, the Warriors would come up just short, as New Haven earned its repeat title with a 15-10 win in the fifth set, but Merrimack walked away knowing that it had blown away the entire conference's expectations. They were a set away from a major upset win and their first conference tournament title, and now knew, most importantly, that the rebuilding years were long behind them.
What It Meant
Head Coach TJ Hajjar: "This past season was one to truly remember. In all my years coaching I have never worked with a group of kids whose only desire was to win. We came in to the season projected to finish 13th in the conference, and we proved them all wrong by finishing second. With all of our returners but one coming back, we plan on pushing even further this fall to take the next level."
Junior Stephanie Sheehan: "This season was by far my best one at Merrimack so far. Not only did we finish eleven spots ahead of where we were predicted to finish, but we worked as hard as we could to get there. We pushed ourselves individually and we pushed each other to be better, we held each other accountable, and most importantly we developed a chemistry that we've never had before. As a team, we were finally able to see our full potential realized and build confidence that will carry over to next season. I couldn't be more proud of our team for what we accomplished last season and I know that we are all more than ready to go on another run this fall, hopefully ending with a championship."
This is the eighth of 10 Merrimack Athletics Top Moments of 2013-14 installments.
10. Men's Ice Hockey Plays in Citi Frozen Fenway 2014
9. Men's Lacrosse Reaches Fifth NE-10 Final in Six Years
8. Men's Soccer Returns to NE-10 Final
7. Men's Tennis Earns Seventh Straight NCAA Tournament Berth
6. Women's Cross Country Qualifies for National Championships
5. Football Stuns Division I Wagner
4. Field Hockey Returns to NCAA Semifinals for Third-Straight Season
3. Women's Volleyball Shocks League with Run to NE-10 Final
2. Friday, June 27
1. Monday, June 30