By Collin Bolebruch and Liam Sample
The Plattsburgh Cardinals’ women’s volleyball team battled in the Union/Sage Crosstown Challenge in the Capital Region last weekend in the final games before playing this season’s conference stretch. When the Cardinals participated in the tournament last season, the team played in only two games and went 1-1. This year, the Cardinals came back to Plattsburgh with a tournament record of 1-2.
The team goes into conference play this weekend with a 4-5 record. A positive SUNYAC record is crucial in the end-of-year standings and last year, Plattsburgh’s final conference record was 2-7. The tournament was the Cardinals’ last non-conference weekend until late October.
It started the weekend in Albany taking on the Russell Sage Gators, who came in with a 2-8 overall record. In the first game, Sage was able to swing together major points streaks. Early on, Plattsburgh put together a 11-6 lead that was quickly neutralized by six straight opponent points. The Cardinals then earned a crucial point on a kill by first-year Sanaia Estime. Plattsburgh followed that up with another six points, and brought the score to 18-13. Sage responded by winning 12 of the next 13 points to take a 1-0 lead in the match.
“We’re able to push ourselves more mentally than we have for the past years that I’ve been here,” senior Jenn Braun said. “Our mental strength is much stronger.”
From there, the Cardinals soared. Plattsburgh took the next three sets, putting up 25-18, 25-17, and 25-21 wins respectively. Junior Payton Zophy put up an astonishing match, tallying a season high 18 kills and 21 digs. She leads the team in both categories, earning Women’s Cardinal of the Week.
“[The win] definitely excited us as a team because we know what we’re capable of,” first-year Jeanette Ashong said. “We know that we can fight for that in given situations.”
The next opponent was Union College, who stood just below .500 going into the tournament. Plattsburgh traveled from Albany to Schenectady for this game. Its next matchup was a game of back and forth. After dropping the first two sets, Plattsburgh started to make a comeback. In the third set, both teams were tied at 12, only for the Cardinals to pick up momentum, taking nine out of the next ten points, which propelled it to take the set 25-17. Plattsburgh stumbled in the fourth set after nearly giving up an eight point lead, but still held on because of clutch kills from Zophy, Estime, and graduate student Alicia Fisher that broke up the Union momentum.
After forcing a decisive fifth set, the teams began going back and forth to begin to set. The Cardinals created a 10-7 lead after another kill from Fishers, who finished the match with six. Union put Plattsburgh away and went on to win eight of the last nine points.
“We just have such a young team, [with] six incoming freshmen. That makes a big difference, but I think it has ultimately made us stronger,” first-year Kyleigh Ganz said.
The final matchup of the day came against the Skidmore Thoroughbreds at a neutral Union court. Plattsburgh held the momentum early, taking two of the first three sets. Fisher and Braun put up big performances, with 22 combined kills between the pair. On defense, junior Emma Rivers showed up and tallied seven digs.
The Cardinals slipped after it nearly made a 18-24 comeback in the fourth set, only to lose 23-25 in heartbreaking fashion. In the fifth set, Plattsburgh lost its steam, losing 7-15 to close out the weekend with its second loss.
“Losing in five sets just ultimately makes us work even harder,” Ganz said. “We’re going to be focusing on [finishing out] in practice this week, so that doesn’t come up this weekend for us.”
Plattsburgh lost more than just two games— one of its top players, Payton Zophy, injured her ankle leaving her out indefinitely. Heading into the most important games of the season, this is a challenge for the team to overcome.
“It doesn’t really help that we lost Payton, but we can’t just use that as an excuse to lose games, so I think we all need to push physically and mentally in order to win,” Braun said. “I have faith in us with or without the players that are injured right now.”
While the team lost two close games, its fight was apparent throughout the weekend. It starts its conference season at Oswego Sept. 23 and at Cortland Sept. 24, which will be key in setting the tone to try to improve on last season. Despite the setbacks, The Cardinals have a lot of positive attributes to build on going into SUNYAC play.
“We know we can still do it and we can win for [Payton],” Ashong said. “We can pull together.”