Nineteen years ago, head coach Todd Kress won his first conference tournament title leading the Stags to a victory in Disney World. By no means can Alumni Hall live up to the setting that the Orlando dreamland provided nearly two decades ago, but they do share one thing for certain: magic is in the air. On Nov. 20, Fairfield swept the Quinnipiac Bobcats in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Tournament Championship Game 3-0 on George Bisacca Court before a raucous home crowd.
Like many contests this season, the Stags set the tone from the outset with their dominant play in the first set. Aided by superb outside play from Skyler Day ‘18 and Megan Theiller ‘18, as well as a commanding net performance from captain Megan O’Sullivan ‘17, Fairfield quickly jumped out to a lead and never looked back en route to a 25-18 first frame triumph. The Stags tallied 15 kills in the period with only four errors on 32.4 percent hitting.
The second set made it clear that Fairfield had no plans of letting Quinnipiac stick around on campus any longer. The Stags carried their momentum from the first frame and unleashed fury on the Bobcats to the tune of 16 kills. Fairfield absolutely stifled the Quinnipiac offensive attack as their Nutmeg State rival only pushed across seven kills in the set while piling up six errors. The net play of O’Sullivan and Manuela Nicolini ‘20 made life for the Bobcat hitters miserable as the pair seemingly altered every single attempt made by Quinnipiac.
Once the second set finished and the lengthy break before the third frame commenced, you could sense the tension in the air. However, for the time being, it looked like the Bobcats had other plans. The third set was a battle of wills, the Stags desperately trying to finish the match in three sets and Quinnipiac frantically trying to stave off a sweep. Eventually, experience and talent triumphed as Fairfield narrowly won the third period 25-23 as they put away a match-high 19 kills.
Just like that, months of hard preparation and grueling practices finally reaped its benefits. The Stags were MAAC Champions and it felt good, especially for O’Sullivan, who also took home Most Valuable Player of the tournament in her last time playing at Alumni Hall.
“I am so proud of my team. We have worked so hard from the day we came in here at the beginning of preseason,” said O’Sullivan. “Our hard work forever paid off and for that we are so happy and grateful.”
As for the man at the helm of the Stags, what became Kress’ fourth conference title in his two stints at Fairfield could not have provided a sweeter feeling. All season long, he was business-like in his approach, but once that trophy was raised, the coach was not afraid to admit how exceptional the team is both on and off the court.
“This is a special, special team to me, I will tell you that,” said Kress. “They are great people and when you win with great people, it means that much more because we are doing it the right way. It is very rewarding and I could not be happier for them.”
Oftentimes, you just know when a championship is meant to be for a team and this season was exactly that for Fairfield. As hundreds of fans cheered Fairfield on during the game, it seemed as though
winning a championship in Alumni Hall was only fitting for Kress and his talented group.
“I want to thank every person who came out to support this program,” Kress said. “The support of the student-athletes and the fellow coaches and community was incredible. We could not be more thankful for what they provided us in our home gym.”
The Stags proved this weekend that there is nothing like playing at home. Along with O’Sullivan, both Day and Theiller were named to the All-Championship team for their standout performances during the weekend. It was truly amazing to see a team come together and achieve the main goal that they set out to accomplish months ago. That being said, Fairfield’s 2016 team is not done yet, as they earned themselves a National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament berth.
The leader for the Stags throughout their historic season, O’Sullivan summed up championship weekend at Fairfield.
“We have never had a turn out like this,” said O’Sullivan. “To play in front of my family for the last time at [Alumni Hall] was truly awesome.”
Wherever the postseason takes Fairfield, the squad will never forget the lasting memories that they made on George Bisacca Court. In true Stag fashion, it was one for all and all for one in Stag Country.
On Dec. 2, Fairfield will begin NCAA Tournament play when they travel to East Lansing, Mich. to take on the nationally ranked ninth-seeded Michigan State Spartans.