Despite a powerful run through the quarter and semifinals, the Golden Griffins volleyball team was defeated at the hands of the Rider Broncs in nail-biting fashion in the MAAC Championship on Saturday. Canisius seemed overwhelmed by Rider’s serves, and caught themselves committing costly errors throughout the matchup.
The No. 2 seed Griffins began their MAAC Tournament in the quarterfinals, avenging the team’s 2019 semifinal loss to Quinnipiac, defeating the Bobcats three sets to one. In this year’s semifinals, the team swept Battle of the Bridge Rival Niagara 3-0 to advance into the MAAC championship.
In the first set, The Griffs jumped out to an early lead, scoring the first point of the day courtesy of a kill from sophomore Ella Loussia. However, No. 4 seed Rider took control shortly after, leading the rest of the way and winning the first set 25-20.
In a back and forth second set, Canisius and Rider each found themselves with the lead at several moments in the match. Eventually, both teams were knotted at 22, and they traded points until the teams were tied at 27. Building on a fantastic day from Morgan Romano, Rider’s star opposite hitter recorded two kills to end the second set 29-27 in favor of the Broncs. At the time, the Broncs set victory seemed to give them all the momentum.
Nevertheless, Canisius was able to get their footing at the beginning of the third set, and jumped out to an 18-8 lead. The third set seemed to be the culmination of how the Griffs have played all season, playing great defense and were stout overall. Junior setter Ashley Kekeisen was outstanding in the third set, and was a standout performer for the Griffs all day. However, with the Griffs at set point, Rider went on a scary run, coming within just two points, before a kill from junior Julia La Longa put the set away.
In the fourth set, the teams were deadlocked all the way down to the wire. The biggest lead for either team was merely three points, Canisius held that mark twice in the contest, leading 10-7 and then 13-10 just a few volleys later. Tied at 24 and the championship on the line, a service error from Loussia gave the Broncs the advantage. On what would turn out to be the final play of the season, a serve from Rider’s Jillian Chan was ruled an ace, after Canisius was unable to return it over the net. On the play, a Canisius challenge from head coach Shannon Thompson triggered a replay review on a possible service foul from Chan. On the play, Rider’s Ali Ward appeared to reach over the net to interfere with Canisius’ Callie Chamulak’s setting of the ball, but the incident was unchallengeable. No service foul appeared, and the Broncs were deemed the 2020-2021 MAAC volleyball champions.
“We didn’t start strong like we were hoping for,” Thompson said. “But we responded and played well in the second half of the match.” Thompson also emphasized that the team struggled to play as aggressively as they had planned for, resulting in them having to battle back in the match instead of playing with the upper hand.
Rider’s Morgan Romano and Jillian Chan led the way for the Broncs, scoring 26 and 20 points, respectively, but junior setter and tournament MVP Anilee Sher was the real hero for Rider, recording 58 assists through the four sets.
The Golden Griffins stat sheet echoed what was true for most of the season, a well rounded performance where everyone on the floor got involved. Loussia led the team with 19 kills, Kekeisen had 29 assists with 19 digs, and sophomore Bree Long once again proved why she was part of the 2019 MAAC all-championship team, with 26 digs on the day, several of which were one handed and had her sprawling to keep the ball in play.
Despite the disappointing loss, Thompson showed pride in her group. “Our girls fight until the end. They did a great job of not giving up and we’ve had that mentality all year,” she said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t go our way tonight, but they have a lot to be proud of with how hard they worked this season and how well we finished the year.”
Canisius finishes as the MAAC runner up for the second time in three seasons.. Ideally, volleyball will return to normal scheduling in the fall, where the Golden Griffins will strive towards a return trip to the championship game, in the hope of coming out on top next season.