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Bryant raises the bar again in 2018

Eric Miller/University of Minnesota
Eric Miller/University of Minnesota

The Bryant University volleyball team continued its upward trajectory in 2018, as the program yet again reached new heights in its Division I era.

That height can be measured from the top of Bryant's first Northeast Conference Championship trophy, hoisted in Brooklyn in November after another record-breaking year.

Led by a stellar class of five seniors and receiving contributions throughout their roster, the Bulldogs won a Division I program-best 22 matches in 2018 with the final victory coming in the form of a sweep of Sacred Heart in the NEC Championship match.

Redshirt-senior Julia Flynn (Pembroke, Mass.) was named NEC Tournament MVP, while the Bulldogs had numerous players step up in a weekend that included a five-set battle to get by Central Connecticut before the sweep of the Pioneers.

Sophomore Erika Ward (Rochester, Mich.) tallied a career-high 32 digs in the clash with the Blue Devils and senior Grace Richmeyer (DeSoto, Mo.) was a presence in the middle to help Bryant to its first NEC title.

The Bulldogs rewrote much of their Division I record book during the 2018 season, especially defensively, with Ward becoming the first Bryant player to reach 1,000 digs as a sophomore, and senior Kristin Kingi (Thousand Oaks, Calif.) setting Bryant's Division I career digs record at 1,375. Richmeyer places fifth in Bryant's Division I era in career blocks (277) while adding over 500 kills.

Senior Kirstyn Sperry (Phoenix, Ariz.) completed her career in Black & Gold as Bryant's D1 record holder in career aces (173) and single-season aces (50) while ranking third in career digs (1,214) and career assists (2,683).

Flynn became the third player in Bryant's D1 era to reach 1,000 career kills, completing her career with 1,147. The graduate student also collected 976 digs in her time at Bryant.

Freshman Caroline Kennedy (San Juan Capistrano, Calif.) burst onto the scene in her first year in Black & Gold, setting Bryant's Division I mark for single-season kills with 409. Kennedy, who had 24 matches of 10 or more kills, joined Flynn, Ward and Kingi as All-NEC selections.

Head coach Theresa Garlacy reached a milestone of her own in 2018, collecting career victory No. 500 in September. Garlacy's trip to the NCAA tournament, where the Bulldogs faced No. 2 national seed Minnesota, was her 11th as a head coach and 12th on the staff at Bryant.

The Bulldogs' 10 non-conference wins matched a Division I program-best. Bryant collected its first victory at Providence, a win over America East champion Stony Brook, and earned the program's first wins over Conference USA (Middle Tennessee) and MAC (Central Michigan) members.

Bryant's run to an NEC title was fueled by efforts throughout the roster. Eight players had a match of 10 or more kills and five recorded a double-double, including seniors Kingi, Sperry, Flynn and Julia Malet (San Rafael, Calif.).

Malet played in a career-high 110 sets in 2018, with two of her biggest performances of the year coming in pivotal road NEC wins at Saint Francis U and Robert Morris. The senior setter also chipped in 22 assists in Bryant's NEC semifinal victory.

Freshman Haley O'Brien (Milton, Mass.) helped lead the Bulldogs past Central Connecticut in the NEC semifinals, recording 11 kills and eight blocks. O'Brien had six double-digit kill performances as a freshman, including a career-high 16 in a five-set win at Robert Morris in October.

Freshman Jenna Knight (Scottsdale, Ariz.) had two big performances against the Blue Devils, helping Bryant to a sweep in New Britain and the semifinal victory, along with a career-high 12 kills in the victory at Robert Morris.

Sophomore Mackenzie Wild (Rochester, Mich.) had a career performance in August against Conference USA member Charlotte, tallying 10 kills against the 49ers. Wild was a key contributor to Bryant's first win over a MAC school the week before, recording five blocks in a five-set victory over Central Michigan.

Freshman Maya Popernik (Chicago, Ill.) helped fuel a September victory over Hartford, coming off the bench for a 10-kill effort. Popernik would see increased time in the NEC tournament, with some pivotal swings and two blocks in the semifinal victory over Central Connecticut.

Junior Brianna Bruny (Biscayne Park, Fla.) played a key role in a five-set win over Stony Brook for the second year in a row, hitting .667 as Bryant came back from down 0-2 to win on Long Island. Bruny recorded five blocks in a battle with LIU in November at the Chace.

Junior Nikki Kim (River Edge, N.J.) served as the libero in Bryant's five-set win at Providence in September – getting Coach Garlacy her first victory on the home court of her alma mater.

Sophomore Alisi Motu'apuaka (Virginia Beach, Va.) was a major contributor in the victory over Central Michigan, playing in the back row and collecting a season-high 16 digs in the win over the Chippewas in Chicago.

Junior Sydney Gorski (Chagrin Falls, Ohio), who was limited to four sets in 2018 due to injury, provided a spark in her time on the court, recording six kills over two sets September 18 at Brown.

All 14 Bryant players who played in at least one-quarter of the Bulldogs' sets in 2018 contributed a match of 10 kills, 10 digs or five blocks.

The Bulldog senior class tallied 81 victories in their four years in Black & Gold and placed players in the top five in Bryant's Division I era in kills, assists, aces, digs and blocks.

While Bryant graduates its most accomplished senior class in its Division I era, the future is bright for 2019. The Bulldogs return seven players who played in at least 50 sets, four who competed in 100 or more, and two All-NEC honorees. The Black & Gold also welcomes a talented freshman class that includes All-America and All-State honorees from around the country.

New heights were reached in 2018, but the ceiling is even higher.