Chestnut Hill College senior Rachel Biro (left) hits the ball into a block put up by Megan Mannle of visiting NYIT. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Chestnut Hill College senior Rachel Biro (left) hits the ball into a block put up by Megan Mannle of visiting NYIT. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Sheltered in Sorgenti Arena, Chestnut Hill College’s volleyball players escaped the chilly rain outside, but they could not avoid a pair of 0-3 setbacks against two visiting squads in morning and afternoon matches last Saturday.

The defeat during the morning was more impactful, since it came against a conference opponent, Caldwell College, 25-11, 25-23, 25-22. In an early afternoon bout Caldwell, from northern New Jersey, fell in three close sets to the New York Institute of Technology, located on Long Island. In the third bout of the day, NYIT took down the host Griffins, 25-20, 25-18, 25-20.

A few days earlier, CHC had raised its record within the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference to 4-1 with a straight-sets win over University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. Even with Saturday’s loss to Caldwell the Griffins remained in winning territory in the CACC, but at the end of the day they were 5-14 overall, a mark that included a string of early matches against very challenging opponents, a number of them ranked teams in NCAA Division II.

The positive conference record was not particularly comforting to eighth-year CHC head coach Kim Kolesnik, who pointed out, “Unfortunately, a lot of those early conference games were not against strong teams. Our schedule is really up and down, where we’ll play a weak team and then go right into a game with a very challenging team. We’re working on trying to come out for every game with a winning mentality, especially when we’re playing against teams that are going to give us more competition. That has been a struggle for us so far.”

After their 11-25 opening set against Caldwell last Saturday, the Griffins gave a better account of themselves the rest of the way, but still succumbed in three rounds. Freshman Kennedy Sutton had the match high in assists, with 38, while senior co-captain Rachel Biro led the net attack with a dozen kills.

Leading the team in digs, with 19, was the other CHC captain, junior Regina Trabosh. She is a graduate of Mount St. Joseph Academy, and her father, George, is the Mount’s head coach and also an assistant coach for the Griffins.

For the NYIT contest, junior outside Madison McBride asserted her self, leading the squad with 14 kills and matching Trabosh for the team high in digs, with 13. Sutton registered 25 assists in this one.

While Coach Kolesnik likes to see individuals excel, she observed, “The players who are “on” varies from game to game. We sort of see-saw instead of having the majority of our players consistently playing well, which you need to be successful in volleyball.”

In Saturday afternoon’s engagement with the NYIT Bears, kills by Biro, McBride, and junior transfer Emily Koehler kept the Griffins either even or slightly ahead of their guests in the early going. CHC climbed out of an 8-8 tie to go ahead 12-8 in the first set, then the Bears responded with their own 4-0 spurt.

The score was tied for the last time at 15-15, and NYIT moved ahead for good by scoring on a tip, a hit, and a pair of blocks. The Griffins reduced the gap to two points several times as the score climbed to 22-20, then several CHC errors helped the Bears put the set away.

As in the first set, Chestnut Hill gained an early advantage in the second frame, advancing from a 7-7 tie and building a modest lead as the score went to 10-7 on a scoring block by Koehler. After each squad scored again, the Bears ran off five in a row and then remained in control.

The hosts were still fairly close at 16-19, then they were outpointed 6-2 the rest of the way.

Both teams were floating about the same number of tips over the net, but CHC didn’t seem to dig them out as well as the Bears.

“We played flat today, and our defense was part of that,” Kolesnik explained. “We’re sort of guessing instead of really reading the opponents, reading the ball and the hitter. We’re not reacting quickly.”

Things went south for the Griffins pretty quickly in the third set, where they fell behind 2-7 in the opening minutes. They trimmed back the Bears’ lead a bit, but never could catch up.

Relatively late, the Griffins got as close as two points (17-19) on a kill by McBride. The teams then traded points until the end of the match; that was all the New Yorkers needed to do to wrap up a 25-20 victory in the final set.

CHC has played close sets against a number of good teams, but the Griffins have tended to falter at crunch time, according to their coach.

“A lot of the other more established programs execute better under pressure,” Kolesnik said. “We get uncomfortable in those situations, and we lose our confidence so we just can’t finish things out. It’s completely mental, and the players have to learn to control that.”