FAIRFIELD, Conn. – Despite a career-high 10 kills from sophomore Grace Richmeyer (DeSoto, Mo.), 10 more from all-conference second team selection Julia Flynn (Pembroke, Mass.) and a double-double from fellow second teamer Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.), the third-seeded Bryant University volleyball team dropped a four-set heartbreaker to No. 2 LIU Brooklyn in the 2016 NEC Tournament Semifinals Saturday night.
Richmeyer's .320 attack percentage led the Bulldogs (19-15) while NEC Setter of the Year and senior captain Vika Katzen (Kfar Saba, Israel) dished out a match-best 31 assists to go with nine digs (2 aces, 5 kills). Sperry's double-double came courtesy of 11 assists and a match-best 15 digs (8 kills) while Flynn and junior libero Erica Vendituoli (Nashua, N.H.) each picked up eight digs of their own.
LIU Brooklyn (14-14) hit an impressive .292 as a unit in the match, paced by 15 kills from Alex Larsen and nine from Jiayi Zhang. The Blackbirds hit better than .300 in three of the four sets, including a .409 clip in the third. Amanda Hubbard registered 31 assists while Emily Magee led the defense with 15 digs. Viktoria Fink added eight kills, three aces and 10 digs, while Katharina Krepper (6 kills) was the driving force behind seven of the team's nine total blocks (1 solo).
The Bulldogs opened up a 5-1 early lead in the opening frame thanks to strong defense from Vendituoli and tough hitting from the front row. But Bulldog errors and Blackbird blocking would give LIU Brooklyn its first lead of the night at 11-10, part of an 12-2 run that would see LIU Brooklyn jump out in front, 19-12. Four-straight Bulldog points closed the deficit to 22-20 late in the frame, but the gap would get no closer as Filippa Hansson (6 kills) capped off the 25-21 win with an ace. The Blackbirds didn't commit an attack error in the frame and hit at a .355 clip, posting three blocks without allowing one from the Black and Gold.
A Sydney Gorski (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) (4 kills) solo block in the second tied the stanza early at 4-4, and Katzen would cap off a 6-2 spurt with a kill for an 8-6 Bulldog edge. Four-straight Bryant errors handed the Blackbirds back the lead, and they would run that advantage to 15-11 before the Bulldogs scored four of the next five to pull within one, 16-15. LIU Brooklyn would score the next two points out of their first timeout, but the Black and Gold would hit the gas from there, ripping off an 8-0 run for a 23-18 lead and all the set's momentum. Bryant would eventually outscore the Blackbirds, 10-2, to close out the 25-20 win and even the match at 1-1. Flynn led the way in the frame with six kills.
Like the sets before it, the third stayed tight in the opening points, but a four-point run put the Blackbirds out in front, 14-10, midframe. The Bulldogs would falter again later in the set, allowing a Blackbird rally that saw the second seed score seven-of-eight to drive the margin to 23-14. The gap was more than the Bulldogs could overcome, falling, 25-18. LIU Brooklyn hit .409 in the frame with just one attack and one service error, capitalizing on 12 Bulldog miscues in the stanza.
Hansson broke a 5-5 tie to put the Blackbirds on top in the fourth, and Fink followed it up with three-straight aces as the Bulldog defense struggled to find its footing. A Katzen solo block put a temporary stop to the LIU Brooklyn run, 12-7, but the Blackbirds would keep the pressure on to take a 15-9 edge. Flynn pounded one down the line to cut the deficit to 17-13, but Bryant could never take the momentum away from the surging Blackbirds, as they capped off the 25-15 win and 3-1 match victory with a stuff from Krepper and Larsen.
Despite the loss, the Bulldogs capped off a stellar 2016 season with their second-straight NEC Tournament appearance after earning their highest regular-season finish at the Division I level. The Bulldogs matched the program's DI program record for wins (19) and conference wins (10) and will return 14 from this season's roster in 2017.