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Bulldogs top FDU in regular-season finale, secure No. 3 seed in NEC Tournament

Photo by DSPics.com
Photo by DSPics.com

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Behind 24 kills from sophomore outside Julia Flynn (Pembroke, Mass.), the Bryant University volleyball team capped off the regular season with a 3-1 victory over Fairleigh Dickinson Sunday afternoon, securing the No. 3 seed in the upcoming 2016 Northeast Conference Tournament.

Freshman Sydney Gorski (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) continued her late-season breakout, adding 13 kills with a .385 attack percentage and a team-high four blocks as the Bulldogs (19-14, 10-4 NEC) came back to sweep the final three sets after an opening-frame loss. The Knights (3-29, 1-13) were led by 11 kills from Caroline Laton.

With the win, Bryant earns a tie for second with LIU Brooklyn in the final regular-season standings and will face the Blackbirds in first-round tournament action Nov. 19. Top-seeded Sacred Heart will host the two-day tournament and take on #4 Central Connecticut in the semifinals. Sunday's win also tied the program's Division I record for wins in a season (19) and conference wins in a season (10), both previously set in 2015.

Neither side led by more than two points at any point in the opening set Sunday afternoon, a frame that saw 13 ties and eight lead changes before the Knights nailed down the 25-23 victory. But the Bulldogs charged back in the second, taking a 20-12 lead after a five-point run served up by Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.). Flynn and Gorski would each collect five kills in the frame for the eventual 25-19 win to even the match at 1-1.

In the third, Flynn once again led the way with six kills and a .545 attack percentage, as the Black and Gold hit .265 as a unit and limited their hosts to just .028 percent accuracy on the attack. A Laton error broke a 6-6 tie that Bryant would extend to three points, 9-6, and while FDU would close the deficit to one once more, the visitors would outscore the Knights, 17-6, to run away with the frame in the 25-16 final margin.

A tight fourth set – highlighted by six draws – broke Bryant's way for the final time thanks to a Gorski kill at 23-22, and classmate Ava Patterson (Danville, Calif.) (3 kills) would follow with a kill of her own to set up match point. Carly O'Sullivan would bring FDU back to within one on the next play, but senior Sara DePouw (Oconto, Wis.) closed out the victory with the deciding kill on the next rally for the 25-23 set win and 3-1 match victory.

DePouw finished the day with seven kills, seven digs and three blocks as the Bulldogs put up six stuffs as a team. Sperry (16 assists, 10 digs) and senior setter Vika Katzen (Kfar Saba, Israel) (match-high 35 assists, 11 digs) each finished with double-doubles, as did Flynn, who added 12 digs to her 24 kills. Junior libero Erica Vendituoli (Nashua, N.H.) posted a match-best and career-high 29 digs to lead the defense.

Annabel Reyes led the Knights at the net with a contest-leading seven blocks (1 solo), while Josephine Gallagher and Kirstin Trabert split setting duties with 14 assists apiece. Savanna Wray paced the hosts defensively with 22 digs, while O'Sullivan chipped in 20 more to go along with six kills.

The Bulldogs have now qualified for postseason play in back-to-back seasons and will look for their first NEC Tournament victory Saturday, when they take on LIU Brooklyn in the second of two NEC Semifinals (7:30 p.m.).