Bulls Open The Season With Two Wins In Blue And White Classic

Larra Bickelhaupt

BUFFALO, NY – The University at Buffalo volleyball team opened the 2018 campaign with two wins on Friday as they began play at the Blue and White Classic with a 3-0 win over Niagara and a 3-1 victory over Seton Hall.  It is the second straight year that the Bulls opened the season with two wins on the first day of the season.

In today's opening match, the Bulls defeated Niagara easily with a 25-16, 25-15, 27-25 victory as the Bulls outhit the Purple Eagles, .330 to .216. Junior setter Scout McLerran got off to a quick start as she had 16 assists in the opening set against Niagara. The Bulls raced out to an 11-4 lead in the first set, but Niagara pulled within 15-12.  UB answered with three straight points as a kill from junior Polina Prokudina gave the Bulls an 18-12 lead.  UB went on to score the final four points to take the opening set.

In the second set, a kill from senior Megan Wernette put the Bulls ahead 6-2 early and a service ace from sophomore Lauren Slovoski gave UB the 14-4 advantage.  Buffalo continued to put the pressure on, extending its advantage to 18-10 following a kill from junior Kristina Nieves and the Bulls took the set 25-15 after a kill from junior Rachel Sanks.

The third set was the tightest of the three as Niagara led for the majority of the set, including taking a 20-14 advantage, forcing the Bulls to use their second timeout.  Out of the timeout, the Bulls rattled of five straight points, including an ace from Prokudina, which pulled UB within 20-19.  The Purple Eagles then led 24-21 before UB scored two points to pull within 24-23.  Following that play, the Bulls got a match-changing decision from the brand new Challenge Review System.  Senior Larra Bickelhaupt's serve was originally called out, which would have given Niagara the set, but a UB challenge overturned the call, tying the set up at 24-24. Niagara took the 25-24 advantage, but the Bulls scored the final three points, to claim the set and the match.

Prokudina and Sanks each finished with 14 kills to lead the way for the Bulls. For Sanks, the 14 kills were a new career high as she had just one error, hitting .406.  Slavoski also recorded a career best with seven kills, joining teammate Megan Wernette.

Nieves had five kills on six swings as she hit .833 for the match and McLerran finished with 43 assists and three kills.  As a team, UB had seven aces, led by three from Prokudina.

Defensively, Prokudina led UB with 14 digs as Bickelhaupt added 10.  Freshman Paige Beck recorded six digs in her first collegiate match.

The Bulls took the court again on Friday evening, avenging last year's 3-2 loss to Seton Hall as Buffalo defeated the Pirates, 3-1. It was the second straight year that the Bulls have taken down a Big East opponent as they defeated Georgetown in 2017.

Buffalo took the match over the Pirates, 25-27, 25-13, 26-24, 25-22 as the Bulls again outhit their opponents, .222 to .136. Both teams had their chances in the opening set as Seton Hall led late 23-20. However, it was then the Bulls who responded as an ace from Bickelhaupt capped of a 4-0 run and gave the Bulls their first set point.  Seton Hall was able to fight off two set points, as the Pirates went on to win it, 27-25.

The Bulls were not fazed though as they dominated in the second, recording 17 kills opposed to just six for Seton Hall.  The set was tied 5-5 early when the Bulls went on a 12-2 run, putting it out of reach.  Back-to-back kills from Prokudina forced the Seton Hall timeout.  Buffalo scored the final three points of the set, including a pair of kills from Nieves to close it out.

Buffalo opened the third set on a 10-5 run and opened the lead to 17-12 before Seton Hall clawed back within 20-18.  The Bulls went back ahead 24-20, but the Pirates fought off four set points to tie the match up.  The Bulls then got kills from Prokudina and sophomore Andrea Mitrovic to clinch the set and take a 2-1 lead.

Seton Hall led early at 4-2, but the Bulls scored six straight points to go ahead 8-4.  UB continued to lead 11-9 when it scored seven straight points as a solo block from Prokudina put UB ahead, 18-9. Seton Hall fought off one set point to pull within 24-22, but a kill from Mitrovic ended the set and the match.

Mitrovic had 20 kills and 15 digs, while Prokudina added 17 kills.  Nieves added 10 kills and no errors on 17 attacks as she hit .588 to lead the way. McLerran added 47 assists.

Wernette had seven kills, but it was her performance at the net that lifted UB to the win.  The senior from Naperville, IL recorded four solo blocks, pacing a 10.0-block performance from the Bulls, which included eight solo blocks as Prokudina added two and Nieves had one, as well as two assists.

Bickelhaupt added 20 digs, while Beck finished with 11 for her first double-figure digging performance.

"I thought Larra did an unbelievable job of keeping us in system the entire night and letting us run our offense," said head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz. "We let up at certain points in the match, and that is something we'll certainly have to work ongoing forward, but all in all I thought the played hard and got some great wins today over very good Niagara and Seton Hall teams."

The Bulls will conclude action tomorrow at 12:30 pm when they host North Dakota State in the final match of the Blue and White Classic.  The match will air on ESPN+.  The Bison went 1-1 on Friday with a win over Niagara and a four-set loss to Seton Hall.