CHC senior Mary Markowski attacks the ball at the net. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

CHC senior Mary Markowski attacks the ball at the net. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Rallying from six points down in the middle of the fourth set, host Chestnut Hill College went on to take the game at 25-23 and clinched a 3-1 team victory in a conference volleyball match last Friday.

It was a welcome win for the Griffins, whose raised their record to 6-11 within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference, and 8-20 overall. At the end of the first week of October, CHC was much closer to the .500 mark, at 6-10 overall, but the rest of the month didn’t turn out well for the local spike squad.

Sixth-year head coach Kim Feeny, whose club has two more matches left in the 2013 campaign, pointed out, “If we can win out, it would make us 8-11 in the conference, which would match our best record up until now. We’re still playing for improvement. Winning today was a big accomplishment, because Dominican is the defending conference champion, and they’re a team we’d never beaten before.

“We needed to pick up our defense at the net today in order to beat them,” she continued. “Our blockers did a good job of setting blocks and closing blocks, and a lot of the time we were able to make their hitters feel uncomfortable and force them into making mistakes.”

Chestnut Hill built a modest lead as Saturday’s opening set got underway, and Dominican called its first time-out with the Griffins ahead, 11-7. Things didn’t improve for the Chargers, who huddled up again after the hosts bumped their advantage up to 17-10.

The Chargers climbed back within four points at 21-17, then CHC sophomore Rachel Biro stuffed a Dominican block right back at them for a side-out. After the visitors won the next point, a kill by Griffins freshman Madison McBride and a Dominican error brought up game point at 24-18. Dominican briefly delayed its demise, but the home team then wrapped up a 25-19 win with a block by senior Mary Markowski and junior Katie Schock.

The Chargers won by an identical score in the second set to level the overall match at 1-1. They had quickly broken out to a 9-3 lead, and CHC wasn’t able to completely close the gap.

The Griffins slipped behind again early in the third round, 2-4, then McBride secured a side-out with a block and stepped to the service line for three straight points. Chestnut Hill never trailed after that, but Dominican remained within striking distance, and the Chargers eventually pulled into a tie at 22-all. The visitors had posted the tying point on a serve that CHC could not return, but their next serve went out over the left sideline.

McBride scored on a hit to bring up game point for the Griffins, then she and Markowski joined up for a successful block to take the game at 25-22.

The teams went neck through the early stages of the fourth set, then Dominican broke out of an 11-all tie to ring up seven of the next eight points for an 18-12 advantage.

During a time-out, CHC’s Feeny told her charges that she didn’t like to see them flirting with a fifth game.

“I told them we really needed to make a push to close it out in four,” she related. “We’ve had a negative record in five-game matches this season and that can be sort of a psychological barrier, so I just wanted us to avoid it. I’m not saying we couldn’t have won a fifth game; it’s just that history wasn’t on our side.”

Dominican actually helped the host team begin its comeback by hitting a ball into the net. Sophomore Deanna Bianchini sent across two unreturned serves, then senior outside hitter Alex DePalma hammered down a kill for an 18-16 count.

The Griffins were back in contention, but it took them awhile longer to completely catch up. Dominican still led by three points at 22-19, but then committed a carry to give CHC a side-out. The Chargers continued to falter, hitting one ball into the net and whacking another wide to the left on CHC’s side.

Chestnut Hill’s McBride used both hands to put back a ball blocked by the visitors, nudging the Griffins into a 23-22 lead and forcing a Dominican time-out. A CHC block by Markowski and McBride was more successful and it brought up match point, but the visitors stayed alive for one more rally with their final kill of the afternoon. Chestnut Hill finished it out with another block, this time with Markowski linking up with freshman Emily Drew.

Asked what the Griffins had done better against Dominican than in most of their bouts during the dismal days of October, Feeny responded, “Can I say everything? Our blocking was much better and our ball control with our offense was a lot better. Our defense is usually pretty consistent; it’s one of the best in the conference and we’re nationally-ranked in some categories.”

One of the pillars of the Griffins’ “D” has been a new arrival at the libero position, 2012 Mount St. Joseph Academy graduate Regina Trabosh. On Saturday her match-leading total of 31 digs was not atypical; she has been named the CACC’s defensive player of the week on multiple occasions this fall. Drew, a setter who is also a CHC rookie, easily topped the charts in assists on Saturday, with 40.

“Our new libero and setter are settling in quite well with Division II competition,” Feeny commented. “For outside hitters, in general, I think it takes a little longer. There’s definitely some pressure because the defenders they’re seeing on the other side of the court are bigger and faster than they’re used to, and it takes time to adjust.”

First-year outside McBride is clearly getting the hang of it, chalking up 14 kills on Saturday to match the output of DePalma, the seasoned senior.

Markowski contributed three kills and led the Griffins in blocks, with seven.