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Looking Back: Bulldogs post record-setting season in 2016

Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography
Photo by Steve McLaughlin Photography

SMITHFIELD, R.I. – For the second-straight year, the Bryant University volleyball team posted its best season at the Division I level as the program continues to excel within the Northeast Conference and across the region.

The Bulldogs once again qualified for NEC Tournament action in 2016, clinching the No. 3 seed for the second-consecutive season while also posting the program's best regular-season finish. The Black and Gold concluded regular-season play tied for second on the league ladder while matching DI program marks for wins (19) and conference wins (10) in a season.

Driven by two-time NEC Setter of the Year and 2016 ECAC All-Star Vika Katzen (Kfar Saba, Israel), the Bulldogs left an impression on courts across the east coast. Katzen's impressive senior season came with a multitude of accolades, including her second All-NEC First Team nod. The captain posted 20 double-doubles in 2016 while averaging 7.29 assists per set, good for fourth in the NEC. A threat on the attack as well, Katzen finished sixth in the league in hitting percentage (.252) and tallied 151 kills while also producing 338 digs and 35 aces.

Classmate Sara DePouw (Oconto, Wis.) also posted big numbers in her final season as a Bulldog, ranking ninth in the NEC in kills per set (2.58) and finishing second on the team with 250 kills.

Running right alongside the duo was a sophomore pair that often stole the show in high-flying, hard-hitting Julia Flynn (Pembroke, Mass.) and versatile, all-around dynamo Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.). Both earned All-NEC Second Team honors for their season-long performances, as Flynn led the Black and Gold in kills (297) and kills per set (3.09) despite playing in just 96 of the team's 122 frames. Her kills per set mark ranked fourth in the NEC, but she was also a valuable asset on defense, where she racked up 233 digs and 23 blocks.

Arguably the top all-around performer dressed in Black and Gold this season, Sperry finished the 2016 campaign ranked in the team's top three in kills (213), assists (535), assists per set (4.53), aces (41), serve percentage (.947), digs (295), digs per set (2.50), blocks (58) and points (284). She posted the second-most aces in the NEC this past fall, a number that also ranked 57th nationally. Sperry's impressive numbers peaked in her duo of triple-double performances, coming against Hartford Aug. 26 and at Providence Sept. 20, and the sophomore registered 17 double-doubles on the year.

But the quartet wasn't the only talent on head coach Theresa Garlacy's bench. In her 21st season at the helm, Garlacy swarmed the court with playmakers and role players, including top blocker Ally Lunsford (Minneola, Fla.) and junior classmate Kiley Robbins (Garland, Texas). Lunsford finished the year second in the league with a .329 hitting percentage and also paced Bryant on the block with 71 (7 solo). Robbins provided a big spark mid-season, totaling 186 kills in 78 sets.

Freshman sparkplugs Ava Patterson (Danville, Calif.) and Sydney Gorski (Chagrin Falls, Ohio) look to play a big role in the Bulldogs' future after strong rookie campaigns, with the former seeing action in 25 matches to finish with 144 kills, 61 blocks and 10 aces. Patterson led all league freshmen with a .239 attack percentage, good for eighth in the conference. Gorski's impact came in the final stretch of the regular-season, when the frosh posted 41 kills and 11 blocks while hitting a team-best .289 in the final six matches of the season.

The Bulldogs will also return top libero Erica Vendituoli (Nashua, N.H.), who stepped up to secure the job early in the season and finished the year with 452 digs (3.96/set), complemented by 15 aces and a .925 reception percentage.

As a unit, the Bulldogs finished in the nation's top-50 in total attacks (40th, 1st in NEC), total team digs (43rd, 2nd) and total team assists (47th, 1st), also notching the highest kill total in the league with 1,640 (53rd nationally). Bryant also re-wrote a number of Division I single-season program records, including kills per set (13.44), attack percentage (.197), assists (1537), assists per set (12.60), serve percentage (.936) and points per set (16.45).

Bryant's success came not just on the court, but in the classroom as well. All 17 players on the Bryant roster finished the fall semester with a 3.0 or better, and the overall team GPA soared to 3.64.

Much of the firepower behind those numbers is set to return in 2017, leaving Garlacy's Black and Gold a strong foundation for the future.