By: Jon Santer
Notching a team-high 18 kills, senior outside hitter Tessa Smolinski led the Springfield College women’s volleyball team to victory over Coast Guard Academy, 3-1 (25-18, 22-25, 25-15, 25-17) Tuesday night at Blake Arena.
With the victory, the Pride remained unbeaten, and improved their record to 9-0, while the Bears fell to 6-3, ending their current six-game winning streak.
Smolinski, a Communication Disorders major from Hebron, Conn., not only posted 18 total kills, but also recorded 11 digs. Known primarily for her offense, it has been Smolinski’s defensive game that has come around to aid in the Pride’s early season success.
“Tess has really improved her defensive game a ton and she has really improved offensively as well, so I think that has really helped the team,” said head coach Moira Long of her senior. “She really knows how to lead by example.”
Springfield got off to a quick start against the Bears, going up 17-11 in set one following a pair of back-to-back blocks, the first coming from a combination of sophomore Kelsey McGayhey and freshman Lauren Holt, the second from Smolinski. The Pride maintained their lead for the remainder of set one, winning 25-18.
Holt, leading the team with 25 blocks through nine games, picked up a team-high four blocks as well as 14 kills in the Pride’s victory. McGayhey, a sophomore right-side hitter from Shelter Island, N.Y., finished the evening with eight kills.
Bouncing back from defeat in set one, the Coast Guard Academy came into game two with more energy and focus, springing to a 12-7 lead following a 7-0 run that included a kill from junior Elise Sako.
Heading into the final points of set two, a mishandled ball by Pride freshman Jamie Schneck and a well-placed kill from Coast Guard senior Samantha Marmolejo gave the Bears the set, 25-22.
“I think we played really well tonight,” commented Coast Guard head coach Aylene Ilkson. “We are still working out the kinks and learning how to play with one another; we have a lot of young players on our team. There was a lot of fight in our team and overall I couldn’t have been more happy with their performance.”
Ilkson, a 2009 graduate of Springfield College, was a four-year starter for the Pride, earning All-NEWMAC honors as well as All-New England twice each during her career in maroon and white. Upon graduating, Ilkson returned to Springfield as a graduate assistant coach in 2010 and coached the Pride for the past three seasons, helping Springfield to a 81-12 record during that time.
Starting the third set on an 8-2 run, the Pride never looked back as Coast Guard made a handful of unforced errors that resulted in them dropping set three, 25-14. Down the stretch, Smolinski and McGayhey proved to be too strong for the Bears’ defense, with McGayhey blasting home the set-clinching kill.
“We started off slow today, but once we got back to our game plan we stepped it up and played our game,” said Smolinski.
Fittingly enough, it was Smolinski who ended set four, and coincidentally the match with a kill that deflected off of a Coast Guard defender and bounced into the bleachers, marking Springfield’s ninth victory of the 2013 season.
The Pride will look to continue their success this weekend when they take on reigning NEWMAC champion MIT this Saturday at 1 p.m.