With the Fairfield volleyball team leading Canisius 24-16 in the third set, needing just one more point to claim not only the game, but also their first MAAC regular season championship since 2009, the team gathered in a huddle during a timeout.
For most teams in any sport, the vibe in the huddle at that time could be intense, focused, and serious, while all sternly concentrate on the moment at hand.
Fortunately, the Fairfield volleyball team is not like any other team.
As they were on the verge of capturing the number one seed in the upcoming MAAC Volleyball Championship, this team showed close to none of those emotions. Instead, it was smiles and laughter from Head Coach Alija Pittenger on down through the roster. One senior could be seen giggling and playing with the hair of one of her teammates as the huddle was coming to a close.
It could not happen any other way for this group, who would go on to win the set and the match on the very next point, sweeping conference rival Canisius in three sets, and securing the team’s 12th regular season title.
“It’s so exciting,” said Kara Reis ’13 after the team clinched the regular season crown. “It’s a great step towards next weekend, and this feeling is great. Having my family here has been amazing, and with all my friends here to cheer me on, it’s the perfect way to end the regular season.”
All of this coming on Senior Day, where the team and fans honored Reis, Brianna Dixion, and Stephanie Cruz for their efforts throughout their four years at Fairfield during pre- and postgame ceremonies at Alumni Hall.
“This team is amazing,” said Reis, who finished with 23 digs and four assists on Sunday. “In four years, I haven’t felt as connected [to this team] as I had to any of the other teams. These girls are great. I feel like at any point and time we can lean on one another, and if you’re struggling, you can ask them to help you out. They work their butts off to cover for you, and it’s probably one of the best attributes of this team, that I love.”
The game did not start as one sided as it ended up, with the two teams trading the lead eight different times along with 19 ties scores. It was Canisius who had the advantage late in the set, going for set point up 24-23. But Fairfield rallied back scoring three straight points, all off kills, the final two coming from the powerful right arm of Dixion, who finished the match with 16 kills along with four digs and three blocks.
Fairfield took the early lead in the second set before Canisius came back to tie the score at six. The Stags would take control of the set, scoring 10 of the next 15 points, earning a 2-0 lead in the match. The third set was more of the same, as Fairfield maintained a six point lead for most of the set, and went on a small run to polish off the Golden Griffins for good, avenging an earlier season loss up in Buffalo, which was the last time they lost this year overall.
“I’m just happy they were so consistent,” said Pittenger of her team’s performance over the weekend. “Today one of the things that we fixed was coming out in the third game and being aggressive. Yesterday [Saturday] we had the energy drop in the third set, and that has been our M.O. for the whole year, so it’s good to see them go out and fix that stuff.”
“We really wanted to beat Canisius, this year they’re our rival,” said Romansky, who had 31 assists and 16 digs in Sunday’s win. “We went out there and showed them that we are serious, and we’re ready for this weekend, and we’re ready for them to come again.”
The Stags also defeated Niagara on Saturday in straight sets on Saturday, in a very similar manner. The first set was a battle between the two teams as well with eight lead changes and 16 tied scores. Once again, Fairfield was able to pull away and captured the victory on a Reis service ace.
The Stags cruised in the second set, and were tested in the third, with the Purple Eagles within two points of the Stags towards the end of the set, but Fairfield held on for the 25-22 victory in the set, and the 3-0 victory in the match.
“This weekend we played really well. We knew what we had to do and we came in knowing we had to execute … I thought we played phenomenal today,” said Reis. “I’m really happy that we won, but at the same time I don’t want to be overly confident. This year in the MAAC, with how it has been the entire season, anyone can win at any time. It depends on who shows up to play.”
Despite shutting out two very difficult conference foes who will both be joining the Stags for the 2012 MAAC Volleyball Championship, no one on the Stags wants to go into the tournament thinking they have a clear advantage or edge.
“It’s been a rough year. All the teams that are in the tournament are good teams, and there’s nothing we can take for granted,” said Pittenger. “We’re going to have to work really hard to beat them, and the team knows that, and I think they’re ready to do that.”
“[The wins] definitely give us confidence, but we can’t let that confidence turn into being cocky,” said Romansky. “We need to stay composed, we need to stay our selves, and play our game … I think we’ve gotten better at counting on each other. When we’ve gotten down, and we’re struggling, we’re able to stay composed push each other as a team.”
“I’m confident in my team, I think we’ve played amazingly this season, and I’m so hopeful that we will win next weekend,” said Reis. “But we have to come in with sort of an underdog mentality rather than being so overly confident. If we come in with that underdog mentality, then most likely we’re going to come in fighting.”
The team’s quest for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2001 begins this Saturday at 1p.m. at Alumni Hall, with a rematch against Niagara, who the Stags swept both times this season.