For the third time in program history, the women’s volleyball team is State University of New York Athletic Conference (SUNYAC) champions.
Losing to SUNY Geneseo 3-0 (14-25, 14-25, 23-25) in the regular season, the Hawks handed the Knights a 3-0 (25-21, 25-20, 25-23) defeat in the SUNYAC championship game, earning an automatic bid to the Division III NCAA tournament.
“This team has worked so hard since January,” said Hawks head coach Matt Giufre. “To see it all come to fruition, I’m so proud of the team and how they came together to achieve this as one unit.”
New Paltz came out hungry in the first set, going on an early 6-1 run, capped off by blocks from fourth-year setter Meredith Dignan and third-year middle hitter Kerri Neville to take the lead, 11-5, which forced a Geneseo timeout, allowing the Knights to climb back into the set, 12-9.
Scoring early and often, the Hawks extended their lead, 20-14. Four unanswered points by Geneseo, however, brought the Knights behind two at 20-18, making coach Giufre call a timeout.
Giufre’s message was heard, as New Paltz outscored the Geneseo, 5-3, with a kill and service ace from Neville sealing the set, 25-21.
The Knights attempted to gain momentum in the second, taking an early 5-2 lead. Their scoring would be stopped, as the Hawks climbed back to tie the set at seven.
A 5-0 run by Geneseo erased New Paltz’s two-point lead, as the Knights grabbed a 14-11 advantage. But, a kill by third-year outside hitter Madison Van Pelt stopped the run, and led to a 7-2 spurt for the Hawks to jump in front, 18-16.
Tied at 18, three-unanswered points from New Paltz topped off by a Van Pelt kill forced a Geneseo timeout, and brought the Hawks up, 21-18. The stoppage could not limit New Paltz’s scoring, as they went on a 4-2 run, with a kill by second-year outside hitter Julie Greenspan capping the set off, 25-20.
The third was tight throughout, as both teams tied each other seven times and stayed within four points within the entire set. Down 13-9, the Hawks could not jump back in the set until kills from Neville and fourth-year outside hitter Taylor Cimillo evened things at 17, forcing a Knights timeout.
With New Paltz down again 22-20, kills from Van Pelt and Cimillo tied the set at 22. Geneseo used its last timeout, but it could not stop the Hawks’ offense. A Cimillo kill, a second-year setter Caleigh Carr service ace and a second-year middle hitter Demi Herasme kill gave New Paltz its third-ever SUNYAC championship, winning the set, 25-23, and the match, 3-0.
“The feeling right now is just unbelievable,” Herasme said. “When we lost to them earlier in the season it was obviously disappointing. But since that day, we were fired up to come back and play harder and more aggressive.”
Van Pelt led the Hawks offense with 14 kills, while Herasme had four blocks and Dignan racked up 30 assists and 20 digs.
Dignan, Van Pelt and Neville were all named to the SUNYAC all-tournament team, with Dignan receiving the tournament’s MVP award.
New Paltz will face Franklin and Marshall College Friday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, held in Providence, RI.
“If we continue to play like we did [in the championship game], we definitely have more volleyball ahead of us,” Dignan said. “We were all just so happy we got to practice on Monday.”