Bearcats dominate in CUNYAC, secure second seed in playoffs
Although Baruch students took off on Columbus Day, the Lady Bearcats took to the college’s Athletics and Recreation Center Arena to face off against John Jay College and Lehman College for the CUNYAC Tri-Match. The women’s volleyball team hosted the doubleheader, which featured two key in-conference opponents. Coming off a grueling road schedule of five games in three days, the Bearcats welcomed a return to the friendly home turf.
The John Jay Bloodhounds entered their match against the Bearcats with a respectable 7-9 record and a deep bench filled with freshman talent. Baruch struck first to kick off the match, but John Jay countered with a four-point stretch that put the Bearcats in a hole.
The Bearcats hit the ball well in the first set as noted by their 14 kills, but also committed 10 errors to keep the Bloodhounds within arm’s reach. Six of those errors accounted for John Jay’s 8-4 advantage early on. The two sides mirrored each other in the game; whether it was a scoring streak, substitutions or an untimely mistake, the rivals battled each other blow-for-blow. Tied at 23-23, Baruch subbed in junior Sophia Shahipour who immediately hammered the ball for a kill. Co-captain Akilah Meulens sealed the opening set with her patented overhand smash.
The second set mimicked the gameplay of the first, although it was the Bearcats who jumped ahead 10-4. Six-time CUNYAC Rookie of the Week Stephanie Cornwell dealt back-to-back aces after she set up co-captain Alessandra Chavez for a wicked kill to open the set. John Jay called a timeout in order to regroup defensively and to slow down the Bearcats’ momentum. It seemed to work as they rallied to bring the set within two points. After a Baruch timeout, the sloppy play accounted for four consecutive errors leading to a surrender of the lead to John Jay, only to rebound with a four-point run of their own. The Bearcats played with the lead for the remainder of the set as the Cornwell-Chavez tandem shined in a 25-20 second set victory.
John Jay pressed in the third set to make the match competitive, but it was all for naught as compounding mistakes gave them a disadvantage. On the other hand, Baruch limited their errors to just five and ran out to a 20-10 lead. With such a large margin and a two-set advantage, it was understandable for the Bearcats to get a bit complacent as the Bloodhounds fervently clawed their way back into the match. The deficit narrowed to six points, but a Bridgette Sarco service error solidified a comfortable 25-18 third set win and 3-0 match victory.
Up next for Baruch was the Lightning of Lehman College who had not won a match in nearly a month. The Bearcats outmatched their opponent in every aspect of the game en route to their second straight three-set sweep, finishing 25-9, 25-17 and 25-16. The team gained steam off of the stellar play of Muelens and Cornwell, who finished with 10 kills and 21 assists, respectively.
Cornwell has proved to be an asset to the Bearcats heading into the future; in just her freshman year, the Kings Park native is putting together a tremendous stat sheet. Given that the roster is currently skewed with seniors, it is reassuring for Baruch faithfuls to know that Cornwell will be available for years to come.
Leaving the Baruch tri-match with a spotless record, the Bearcats simultaneously guaranteed a second seed playoff birth for the upcoming CUNYAC playoff tournament. The team is second only to the Hawks of Hunter College, who beat Baruch early in the season and remained atop the entire CUNYAC slate ever since. Their second place finish is enough to guarantee a bye-week during the quarterfinal round.
The Bearcats’ triumphant in-conference play can be attributed to the philosophy of head coach Carrie Thomas, who intentionally arranges tough non-conference games to sharpen team skills before CUNYAC play. After the Baruch Tri-match, the Bearcats held a very underwhelming overall record of 8-18. The team lost a bevy of matches to admittedly superior teams, but players have bought into the notion that these losses are only setting them up for success later at in-conference play. This notion certainly merits attention, as indeed the Bearcats hold an exceptional CUNYAC record of 6-1.
The team is in the backstretch of their season, with only a handful of games left before they compete in the semifinals of the CUNYAC Tournament. The majority of these games will be non-conference matches, with many hoping the team’s antics will lift them to the championship. The trio of senior captains in Chavez, Marisa Bou and Meulens will look to finish off their collegiate careers by avenging their heartbreaking championship loss to John Jay the previous season. The combination of veteran experience from the seniors and raw spark from the young talent gives the Bearcats a good chance of making good on their ultimate goal.