WEST HARTFORD, Conn. - The University of Saint Joseph volleyball team fended off the Smith College Pioneers, 3-2, inside the O'Connell Athletic Center on Senior Night on Thursday to improve its overall record to 11-14 on the season. The Blue Jays defeated the Pioneers in five sets (15-25, 25-19, 25-19, 27-29, 15-12) for the victory. Smith falls to 4-22 overall on the year with the loss.
The match was the final home match of the year for the Blue Jays and the final career home match for a pair of USJ seniors, Morgan Lauder (Oxford, CT) and Cassandra Grimaldi (Manchester, CT), who were honored with a special celebration prior to the game. A complete photo gallery can be found below.
Smith flew out to an early 5-0 lead in the opening set and looked to spoil senior night for the Blue Jays as they went on for a 25-15 first set victory. USJ would battle back and pull within 8-7, but a 7-0 spurt in the middle of the set distanced the Pioneers and gave them the early lead.
USJ would bounce back though and took the following two sets by a score of 25-19 to take a 2-1 lead in sets. The second set was tightly contested throughout until the Blue Jays exploded for a 6-0 spurt late in the set to take a 23-16 advantage and eventually hold on for the 25-19 win. Freshman Jasmine Buckley (Beacon, CT) had three service aces for USJ during the run.
Similarly, the third set was back-and-forth until USJ would pull away again at the end of the set. Tied 17-17, the Blue Jays closed out the set with an 8-2 run for the 25-19 victory and go up 2-1 in sets. Buckley had three kills, including the set-winning kill, to seal the victory.
The fourth set was highly entertaining as each wouldn't back down, but Smith would eventually earn the victory claiming a 29-27 set win and force a fifth and final set. The set saw the score tied 21 times and there were nine lead changes, however Smith would hold the lead last after a service ace by Julie Voorhes (Ramona, CA) and kill by Elizabeth Peay (Lebanon, CT).
The fifth and final set kept the common theme off the entire match of back-and-forth volleyball. USJ led early 4-2 before Smith would storm back and take a 10-7 lead and then the Blue Jays rallied to tie the match 10-10 on a huge kill by sophomore Miah Giarnese (Torrington, CT). That kill would swing the momentum and propelled the Blue Jays to a 15-12 set win for the 3-2 match victory.
Buckley and Grimaldi posted double-digit kills for the Blue Jays in the win. Buckley finished with 17 kills and hit .350 on the night, while Grimaldi added 14 kills and swung for a .400 hitting percentage. On the night, the Blue Jays hit .239 compared to Smith's .172 hitting percentage.
Sophomore setter Brenna Miller (McCleary, WA) ran the offense for USJ and posted a career-high 45 assists. She also added 20 digs for 11th double-double of the season. Defensively, Buckley and freshman Demetria Eiger (Pheonix, AZ) added 16 and 12 digs, respectively, while junior Hannah Lemek (Bristol, CT) and Giarnese had seven and six block assists, respectively.
For Smith, Peay paced the visitors with a match-high 19 kills and freshman Kimani Freeman (Newark, NJ) added 18. Sophomore setter Maca Rojas (Santiago, Chile) facilitated with 38 assists and Voorhes led the way with 19 digs. Freshman Iris Afantchao (Windsor, CT) posted five block assists and a block solo.
The USJ volleyball team will return to action next as they wrap up its regular season with a crucial GNAC tri-match at Suffolk on Saturday, Oct. 29. The Blue Jays will face off with Simmons first at 1 p.m. before playing Suffolk at 3 p.m. in what could be a win-and-in situation for both teams for the GNAC post-season tournament.