Volleyball battles, loses championship to AIC

New+Havens+Jessica+Akiona+spikes+against+an+AIC+player%2C+Springfield%2C+Mass.+Nov.+20%2C+2021.

Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells

New Haven’s Jessica Akiona spikes against an AIC player, Springfield, Mass. Nov. 20, 2021.

Tyler Wells, Associate Editor

The New Haven women’s volleyball team came up just short in the Northeast-10 (NE-10) Conference Championship on Saturday night, losing to American International College 3-2. It took the full five sets, but the one-seed Yellow Jackets pulled ahead in the final frame to walk away with the title.

These two teams played earlier in the year, with the Chargers taking home a 3-1 victory. This was a different Yellow Jacket team, though, as they won 19 of their 20 matches following the loss, with all the victories coming in a row.

New Haven got out to a hot start, a stark contrast to the semifinals. A series of attack errors from American International and kills by freshman outside hitter Macy Brown and senior middle hitter Asiya Way gave the Chargers an early 11-5 lead. The Yellow Jackets went on a run of their own, scoring nine straight points to take the lead.

The two sides would go back-and-forth, but New Haven was never able to make up the deficit. A kill from the conference’s Player of the Year Andrea Serra-Rosa ended the set and gave American International the early lead.

In the second set, New Haven once again benefited from attack errors to build an early lead. Senior right side Jessica Akiona, who helped carry the Chargers in their semifinal victory, added three early kills to build a 14-11 lead. The score remained close until the end of the set, when consecutive Yellow Jackets kills made it 24-23. An attack error would end the streak, preserving the second set win for New Haven.

Jessica Akiona tips a ball over the AIC defense, Springfield, Mass., Nov. 20. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

Each side looked to take an advantage in the third set, with everyone on the New Haven attack getting involved. Akiona and Brown started it with a pair of kills, while junior outside hitter Emily Barry and sophomore middle hitter Emily Smith contributed kills of their own. The two sides traded kills, and the score remained within a few points the entire set.

Three straight kills from Barry gave New Haven a 16-14 lead, before a small run by the Yellow Jackets evened the score at 18. The Chargers went on a run of their own, outscoring American International 5-1 off three Akiona kills to take a controlling 23-19 lead.

The Yellow Jackets, sensing the importance of winning the set, came back with four unanswered points to tie the match at 23. With the crowd at American International getting loud, Way provided the silencer: back-to-back kills to give New Haven the set and 2-1 advantage in the match.

Facing elimination, the Yellow Jackets showed why they are the top-ranked team in the region during the fourth set. Their attack, led by the powerful right arm of Serra-Rosa, was nearly indefensible, picking apart the New Haven defense each point. The Chargers’ play was also sloppy, giving the Yellow Jackets points off uncharacteristic errors. An exclamation point from Serra-Rose gave them a 25-17 win and had the home crowd buzzing as the match went into a deciding fifth set.

The women’s volleyball team celebrates after a point against AIC, Springfield, Mass., Nov. 20. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

American International seemed poised to run away with the set as three straight points had New Haven reeling. However, the Chargers turned to the players that got them to this point; Barry and Akiona both had kills as New Haven tied the set at three. Kills by Akiona, Brown and Way kept the score even at eight as each side was just seven points from an NE-10 Championship.

The Yellow Jackets opened a slim 13-10 lead before a kill by Smith gave serving privileges back to New Haven. On the ensuing rally, a bump from Barry sailed to the top of the net. It traveled to the American International side, as two defenders and Leon-Tabor jumped for it. The American International players hit the ball first, as Leon-Tabor tipped it back up on the way down. The ball was then set for Brown in perfect position, who sent a spike to the back corner of the court; however, the play was blown dead, and a point awarded to the Yellow Jackets.

New Haven’s Macy Brown spikes the ball against AIC, Springfield, Mass., Nov. 20. (Photo courtesy of Tyler Wells)

The official ruled that it was a back setter violation meaning that Leon-Tabor, who started the rally in the back court, hit the ball when it was above the net. Replays showed that this wasn’t the case, but the point was not overturned. Instead of cutting the lead to just one, New Haven was now facing a match point. The next play was a service ace, giving American International a win and the NE-10 title.

Akiona finished the night with a team-leading 16 kills, while Barry and Brown added 12 kills each. Way contributed 10 kills and a team leading six blocks. Leon-Tabor also had 52 assists, capping off a great debut season for the freshman setter.

While it was a disappointing loss for New Haven, they pushed the top-seeded team to five sets on their home court. Their focus will now shift to the NCAA Regionals, where they almost certainly have an at-large bid.

Coming into the week, they ranked seventh in the region and on the bubble for making it. A dominant win against Stonehill and a near-victory against American International should certainly help their case and move them up a few positions.

The NCAA selection show airs Monday at 7:30 p.m., where New Haven will find out if they have a spot in regionals. More information on their upcoming schedule can be found at NewHavenChargers.com. Recaps on New Haven’s entire playoff run can also be found at ChargerBulletin.com.

 

Volleyball v. AIC NE-10 Championship Photo Gallery