DURHAM, N.H. – In a five-set battle, the University of New Hampshire prevailed over the University at Albany 3-2 to clinch home court advantage in the America East Championships at Lundholm Gymnasium Friday night.
The set scores were 25-23, 19-25, 25-20, 23-25 and 15-10.
UNH will host the conference championships for the first time since 2003 and outright earns the America East regular season title.
Four players registered double-digit kills. Leading the offense, Abby Brinkman (Brecksville, Ohio) recorded a career-high 18 kills followed by Morgan Thatcher (Brockton, Mass., 15), Destiny Tolliver (Rochester, Mich., 13) and Tori Forrest (Powder Springs, Ga., 12). Furthermore, Forrest notched her 11th double-double the season with 18 digs.
Quarterbacking the offense to a .208 hitting percentage, Taylor Dunklau (Mukwonago, Wis.) also earned a double-double on 53 assists and 12 digs.
Defensively, Madison Lightfoot (Clarkston, Mich.) paced UNH with 20 digs while Sam Henke (Millersville, Md.) earned 15. As a team, New Hampshire curbed the Great Danes to a .197 hitting percentage. Tolliver paced the effort near the net to rack up five total blocks.
The Wildcats were able to take the opening frame, edging out Albany 25-23 on the strength of 18 kills. Brinkman fueled the 'Cats offensively with six kills accompanied by a .267 hitting percentage.
Never trailing in the set, New Hampshire jetted out to a 6-2 to start the match. Albany quickly inched back within one to trail 7-6. The Wildcats responded with a 6-2 run to force the Great Danes to use their first timeout and lead 13-8. After the stoppage, each side would exchange points to push the score up to 22-16 in favor of UNH. The Great Danes were advantageous of offensive miscues from the 'Cats, cutting down New Hampshire's lead to 22-20. Following a UNH timeout, New Hampshire regained its composure as Forrest and Brinkman provided the offense to secure the opening set point.
Albany would take the ensuing set by a score of 25-19 powered by a .295 hitting percentage. Amy Hunter struck down eight of her 18 kills in the second stanza to lead the Great Danes offense with a .300 clip.
The Wildcats again bolted out to an early lead, holding a 7-3 advantage in the second set. Each side would exchange the ensuing six points as the New Hampshire clung on to a 10-6 edge. Albany would surge past the 'Cats with a 9-2 run on the strength of five kills from Hunter to lead 15-13. Preceding a UNH timeout, Albany kept the pressure on, stretching out the largest lead of the frame at 20-15 to compel UNH to burn its second timeout. Albany was able to secure the second set victory to level the match score at one and end New Hampshire's season-long 19 set win streak.
The Wildcats were able to capture set three by a margin of 25-20, generated by 14 kills and a .250 hitting percentage.
New Hampshire and Albany would trade points to start the third frame with the 'Cats possessing a 7-6 advantage. UNH would follow up with three consecutive points to lead 10-6 as Albany utilized its first timeout. The Wildcats did not let off the attack, building a 4-1 run to compel the Great Danes to use another timeout.
Proceeding the second Albany stoppage and trailing 14-7, the Great Danes stormed back to string together eight consecutive points to lead 15-14. After trading the next four points, New Hampshire managed to dispossess the lead from Albany to construct a 4-1 run and lead 20-18. The Wildcats never looked back as UNH capped off the third set with 5 of 7 points to regain the match lead, 2-1.
Albany's offense came back in the fourth frame to post a .250 hitting percentage on 14 kills. Olivia Schonewise tacked five kills on the strength of a .625 clip in the frame.
New Hampshire continued its strong play in opening sets to spark out to a 7-2 lead. Albany would chip away at the five point lead, eventually evening the score at 18 all. After evening the score, both sides would swap points to raise the score to 22 apiece. Albany would prevail in the fourth stanza 25-23 to force a fifth set.
Tolliver and Thatcher would prove to be the decisive piece to the 'Cats fifth set victory, recording kill tallies of five and four respectively. Additionally, New Hampshire logged a match-high .370 clip in the deciding set.
Despite fending off the Great Danes on four tied scores, the Wildcats never trailed in the fifth frame. With the score deadlocked at eight, a trio of kills from Tolliver produced a 4-1 run to give a 12-9 lead in favor of the Wildcats. Albany came out of its timeout with a kill to narrow the 'Cats lead to 12-10. Nonetheless, UNH capped off the match with three straight points to take match point.
New Hampshire will be the number one seed in the upcoming America East Championships. The dates of the tournament will be Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22 and 23. Times of the matches will be 4 and 7 p.m. for the semifinals and 4 p.m. on championships day. The Wildcats will play the fourth seed which is still to be determined on Friday, Nov. 22 at 7 p.m. For up to date information about UNH volleyball be sure to log onto UNHWildcats.com.