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Rocky Start with a Soft Landing

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ALBANY, N.Y. — The Volleyball team won their 10th America East title and secured the rights to host the 2017 conference tournament after knocking off the Hartford Hawks in three straight sets (25-16, 25-16, 25-11) at home on Sunday.

The Danes have now won nine matches in a row and 10 out of their last 11, securing their historic run in the America East Conference. The regular season title is coming on the heels of the Danes losing their first 12 matches of the season. During that run UAlbany lost a combined 45-3 sets. There was not much confidence in their locker room, but it was a learning experience.

“Preseason was kinda tough because we were playing really high ranked teams that have 6’5” girls hitting 10-foot lines,” said redshirt sophomore Akuabata Okenwa.

The Danes started their season out on the west coast and played schools like Michigan, Colorado and USC.

“We weren’t really in the mindset yet to play them, but we ended up coming close with USC,” said Okenwa.

The fact that their out of conference schedule was so strong prepared the Danes for a historic run in the America East while capturing the title.

“It ended up being a little tougher than I thought it was going to be, but I think it made us more mentally tough,” said volleyball head coach MJ Engstrom, referring to the Danes’ rocky start.

Engstrom is in her 10th season with the team and believes that she has a special group of players in her locker room.

“I think that in all the years I’ve been here at Albany this team has made the greatest progress ever,” said Engstrom. “Hats off to my assistants and the kids that come to practice and work hard every day.”

The Danes’ slow start didn’t get in their head, but actually brought them closer together as a team and companions.

“I think it showed us that even though teams have big people and people who hit the ball really hard that we can come back and fight. And it also compared us to what we’d see in conference because it’s two very big differences,” said Okenwa.

The Danes rolled through the America East, but they still have work to do if they want a chance of redemption to play those teams they faced early in the season again in nationals.

“It’s still one game at a time. We have a lot to improve upon and that’s what we’re going to focus on,” said Engstrom.

The team will wrap up their regular season conference play this Friday when they make the trip to Long Island to square off against Stony Brook. Then the following week they will host the America East Tournament, which starts on Friday Nov. 17th.

The ladies know they have to take it one game at a time, but this bizarre season has given the team the confidence they need to go out and make it to nationals.

“I think we’re going to come out and dominate,” said Okenwa. “We’re very close as a team. We know what we have to do and we’re going to come out strong.”

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John C. Longton III is the sports editor of the Albany Student Press. He previously served as sports editor for Hudson Valley Community College's student newspaper, the Hudsonian. Longton also works for Townsquare Media, the Albany Patroons, and runs his own podcast weekly, Rated R Sports.

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