Danes Win 10th Straight Ahead of Conference Tournament
Throughout the course of America East Conference play this season, the University at Albany Women’s Volleyball team has been on a tear. The team won 11 of its 12 conference matches this season including its last 10, to earn the regular season title outright and hosting rights for the upcoming conference tournament.
The team’s only loss in America East play came Sept. 29 in its first meeting with defending champion New Hampshire (2-3). Since that loss, UAlbany has only lost four of its last 30 sets and six of those 10 matches were three-set sweeps. Head coach MJ Engstrom credits the team’s success in conference play to the team regrouping after its lone conference loss and being reminded of the UAlbany volleyball program’s values.
“We took some time and went into the legacy of the program and I told them ‘You know what, you’re not playing like Great Danes, you’re not practicing like Great Danes so you’re not going to wear Great Danes’ clothes,” Engstrom said. “For three days, they wore their own stuff until they started to internalize to go after every ball and swing hard every time. We try to instill what this program is about. It isn’t that we didn’t before, but we had to reiterate.”
The lone loss the Great Danes suffered in America East play was certainly not its first this season as UAlbany went winless (0-12) during its non-conference slate to start the season. The rough start was not Engstrom’s intent; instead, it was to watch each player’s skill set.
“I didn’t think we’d be 0-12; it wasn’t my intent. We played a tough pre-conference schedule and I don’t think anything will scare them anymore. The purpose behind a tough pre-conference schedule was to see what each and every one of them is capable of doing,” Engstrom remarked. “I told them ‘You see that kid playing for USC, you can do that too.’ Being young and talented, I wanted to show them that.”
The Great Danes have four players with over 100 kills including Akuabata Okenwa (268), Chloe Evering (192), Tatiana Tiangco (183) and Danielle Tedesco (108). The even distribution of kills makes opponents have their hands full to defend against UAlbany’s attack.
“I think it’s great. Each person on the team does their research, studies their players, knows what they are going to do, knows the corners to hit and the holes in the defense,” Okenwa said. “To have every player attack and be at their almost full potential, score and have the setter be able to set anyone on the court and have them get that kill is amazing.”
Although UAlbany is 11-1 in the America East and the conference tournament host, the tournament consists of four strong teams influencing Engstrom to make sure the team is well prepared emotionally and physically before playing in Friday night’s semifinal.
“We have to remain focused and do the things that we do well and make sure we take advantage of the things that the other teams don’t do well,” Engstrom points out. “As a coaching staff, we need to come up with a good game plan that is going to work and we have to have the team believe the game plan is going to work. We have to give them things they can do which is what we’re building toward.”
2-seed Binghamton and 3-seed New Hampshire will square off in the 4 p.m. semifinal this Friday in the PE Gym while UAlbany will face 4-seed Stony Brook at 7 p.m. in the other semifinal. The semifinal winners meet 5 p.m. Saturday to determine the America East Conference automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.