Over the past 18 seasons, they have won the conference regular season title 13 times. They have made the MAAC Championship Tournament in every single one of those seasons, making it to the Championship’s finale 13 times.
The history of this program makes it seem like this team should be the clear and away favorite to win the tournament, given all their success over the past two decades.
So why does the Fairfield volleyball team feel like the underdogs going into this year’s MAAC Volleyball Championship?
“It’s been a rough year for them, we’ve had a lot of injuries, and a lot of things to work through,” said Head Coach Alija Pittenger. “But I thought they did a great job just fighting through the season and doing what they had to. It wasn’t always pretty, but we found a way to get it done.”
Senior Rachel Romansky said this team became underdogs due to their play earlier in the season, when they struggled against big name opponents early on, and carried those struggles on to a 1-3 start in conference play.
“I think we like being underdogs, we put ourselves in that underdog spot [earlier this season], and we fought back, we knew we had to get it done and we did,” said Romansky. “Everyone saw us in the beginning of the year and were like, ‘Oh, what happened? What’s going on?’ so I think everyone still thinks we’re beatable, and we are.
“I think going in with being seeded number one and people saying ‘Oh, they don’t deserve it,’ it’s good to prove ourselves. Yea we took first, but it’s shared even, and I think we’re still the underdogs in the tournament, everyone thinks Iona might take it, but I think we’ve got a good shot.”
For Fairfield going into this MAAC Tournament, there is good news and bad news when it comes to their first round matchup against the fourth-seeded Manhattan Jaspers.
The good news is that they have played Manhattan 48 times since the 1985 season, and only lost seven of those matches. The bad news is that one of those seven loses came earlier this season, when the Stags went to Draddy Gymnasium and were beaten in straight sets by the Jaspers, 3-0. The Stags did respond later in the season however, returning the favor against the Jaspers with a 3-0 victory of their own at Alumni Hall in a game that took just over an hour to complete.
This MAAC Tournament may be a little different for Fairfield as compared to last season. In 2012, the Stags were favored to win the championship. They finished first by a game over Siena, and had lost just three conference games all season, two of which came before the end of September. They had an outstanding 1-2 punch with Brianna Dixion ‘13 as the powerful outside hitter and Kara Reis ’13 as the dominant libero to lead the team. They were also heading into the tournament on a hot streak, having won their final eight conference games.
They also got to play their MAAC Tournament games on their home court of Alumni Hall, in front of highly partisan crowds.
This year, the road is a little more challenging for the Stags. Fairfield admittedly does not have a player or two that they are looking to lean on like they have in past years, but they do not see that as a weakness.
“We’re not that team where we have a superstar. We need everybody to play well,” said Pittenger.
“That’s kind of what happened against Manhattan this last time, everybody had a great day, so we need that to happen again in order to win.”
“This year because we don’t have Bri [Dixion] on the outside, we don’t have Kara as libero, so this year I think it’s more that everyone has to play well,” said Romansky. “Everyone has to do their job, and if everyone does do their job and we work hard, I think we have a really good chance at taking it again.”
There are also no home games for the Stags, as they will have to win their two games in Loudonville, N.Y., with Siena being the host school. The Saints did not qualify for the tournament, much to the relief of the four teams that are playing this weekend.
Fairfield will go up against a team that has beaten them already this season in Manhattan in the first round, and could potentially meet up with an Iona team that has beaten them twice already. This is the first time since 2011 that a team has beaten Fairfield twice in a season, when Niagara beat the Stags twice, and then again in the MAAC Tournament final, which is exactly where Fairfield could potentially face the Gaels (whose opponent in the first round is red-hot Marist, winners of seven in a row).
While both the players and coaches for Fairfield are concentrated on Manhattan for now, they see their possible revenge match against Iona as a motivating factor.
“Iona is a really strong team. Obviously, you lose to them twice, you’d like to get back at them for that,” said Pittenger. “But Marist is a strong team too, and they’ve had a great year, and they prepare really well. So I think anything can happen in the first round.”
“Definitely, definitely a big motivation,” said Romansky of the possible rematch with the Gaels. “They’ve always been our rival. They’re the only team that’s beat us twice … but it’s hard to beat a team three times, it’s a hard thing to do. They got to work hard to beat us, and we got to work hard to beat them.
“We’re kind of looking at them like, if we meet them in the championship, it’s on. It’s going to be a battle for sure,” she said.
If the Stags do face Iona in the finals, it will be the 49th meeting between the two schools in their history. How many times has Iona defeated Fairfield?
That’s right, lucky 13.