By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
With a road win against their hometown rival, the St. Francis Terriers, the LIU Brooklyn women’s volleyball team extended its Northeast Conference winning streak to 28 games on Saturday. It’s an impressive feat, but one that managed to sneak past Blackbird coach Kyle Robinson.
“Honestly, I didn’t even know the streak was that long until somebody mentioned it to me the other day,” Robinson said. “I knew it was long, but I had no idea it was that long. As impressive as it is, a lot of those matches are in the past and we’re just focused on this season, getting better and getting prepared to play in the NEC tournament.”
The Blackbirds, who clinched a NEC playoff spot the week before with a win over Sacred Heart, improved to 17-7 overall and 10-0 in the NEC with its win over St. Francis in Brooklyn Heights on Sunday. Their 28-game NEC winning streak is the second longest conference streak in the country and, while some of those matches may indeed be in the past, that doesn’t mean they are about to let up.
“It was a very important match for us to win,” Blackbird player Annika Foit said. “We only had one game this weekend and it’s important for us to stay sharp as we prepare for the NEC tournament. We want to give everything we have for that one game and we don’t want to go that long without a win.”
They beat St. Francis in three straight sets 25-13, 25-15 and 25-20. Foit led them with 11 kills, while Vera Djurichad 28 assists, Adriana Vinas Joy had 10 digs and Nicole Okeke had four blocks.
The first set went quickly. St. Francis took an early 3-1 lead, but the Blackbirds quickly battled back to go up 7-3 when Tamara Ignijic had back-to-back kills to take the lead. St. Francis then called time out to slow LIU’s momentum, but it hardly worked. LIU scored five of the next seven points and closed out the opening set on a 4-0 run.
The second set started out well, but a 7-2 lead quickly turned to an 8-8 tie. Foit and Jessica Rice started the Blackbirds on a 7-0 run that put them up 15-8. Artisha Jackson closed things out that set with a service ace to go up 23-15 and a kill to win it.
Things finally got tough for LIU in the third set as St. Francis set the tone early and held multiple leads. It was 10-7 Terriers at one point, but LIU then quickly grabbed a 18-12 lead (an 11-5 run) as it went on for the 3-0 sweep.
LIU has just four matches left this season and will need to win at least two of them to finish in first place and have home court advantage throughout the NEC playoffs. The Blackbirds should be capable of that because of their amazing depth. They have already had six different players win weekly NEC awards nine different times, including Foit taking home Player of the Week honors an amazing three separate times.
Robinson talked up their depth when he explained why this team has been so successful, but he also added that a focus on playing hard and getting better each week, rather than worrying about wins, has been the secret to their success. “Keep working, every day they come in and work hard to be successful. That’s our goal. We don’t speak too much about wins, we talk about working hard every day,” he said.
Foit, however, explained that it has just as much to do with their coach as it does the players on the team. “Our coach is the reason we are this good. The way he runs practice, keeps us working hard. He has so much knowledge of the game and explains it to us in a way where we can easily learn from him. Coach (Jennifer Robinson, Kyle’s wife) helps a lot too. It’s just special coaching.”
The Blackbirds have two more home games left, both this weekend, as they will take on St. Francis University on Saturday and Robert Morris on Sunday so they could clinch at least a tie for first in the NEC this weekend with a pair of wins. They then have two games on the road the following weekend, against Central Connecticut and Bryant, before they start the playoffs on Nov. 23.