Volleyball team wins twice to bolt to top of SUNYAC standings


SUNY Potsdam first-year volleyball coach Josh Stokes called it an identity finder.

Senior Jenna Blujus, a two-time SUNYAC First Team selection, glowed that the team had finally found their groove.

It was quite a start to conference play for the SUNY Potsdam volleyball team as it put the finishing touches on what turned into the most riveting weekend of play this season.

Building off their conference-opening victory a day earlier, the Bears doubled up by picking up two critical SUNYAC victories on Saturday at SUNY Cortland.

And, there was no shortage of exhilarating moments as Potsdam (9-9 overall, 3-0 SUNYAC) dug deep for a rallying five-set win against Cortland (10-10, 1-1), a team that has controlled the series in recent years.  The Bears last defeated the Red Dragons on Sept. 19, 2008.  Prior to that, Potsdam had last defeated Cortland on Oct. 26, 1984.

But Potsdam wasn't done.

The Bears followed by taking care of business in a four-set victory against another SUNYAC foe Oswego (11-9, 0-3). 

So, in less than 20 hours, Potsdam has ascended themselves to the top of the SUNYAC standings with a sparkling undefeated mark.

After dropping the first two sets against Cortland, Potsdam displayed dogged determination to fight back for a 16-25, 17-25, 25-18, 25-12, 17-15 win.

The team's attacking percentage more than tripled in efficiency from the first two sets to the last three.  After the initial slow start of converting just six kills on 56 total attacks (10 percent) in the first two sets, the Bears roared back by thumping 28 kills on 80 total chances (35 percent).

"The girls put the ball down on the ground," Stokes said. "They had the confidence and ability to score and have started to believe that we can compete.  We got the right combination of hitters and setters.  We put Tia Wright back in the middle and our passing picked up and then our points came in easier."

"This is the first time that this group has figured out that we can be a championship team.  They finally believe that they can do this.  We feel really good, but we can't stop here.  We've got bigger SUNYAC games coming up.  This really put a stamp on it to say that SUNY Potsdam is here to play.  We've figured out our identity and have created a culture for ourselves and it's bringing out their best volleyball.  I'm very proud of them. "

Blujus (Baldwinsville, N.Y. / C.W. Baker) poured in her sixth triple double of the season with 20 assists, 18 digs and 11 kills.  Junior outside hitter Liza Fields gave her biggest statistical performance with a season-high 13 kills and 16 digs.

"I feel like we finally found our groove," Blujus said.  "Everybody did their job.  That's why we were so successful.  I think we were too tense. [in the early sets]  Once we got to the third set, we were relaxed and playing our game.  We played when we needed to play.  It's a lot more clear.  I'm so excited.  If we keep staying positive and control our errors, we can be unstoppable."

And, senior middle hitter Sara Anderson (Lake George, N.Y. / Lake George) was also very active along the front line as she accounted for 13 kills.

Freshman Sloane Campbell (Scotia, N.Y.  / Burnt Hills-Ballston Spa) also notched a team-high 25 digs, Lauren Manzo (Clovis, Calif. / San Joaquin) added 15 assists and Sharon Ofori (Bronx, N.Y. / John K. Kennedy) had six kills and two blocks.

In the second match, Potsdam topped Oswego 25-22, 16-25, 25-18, 25-14 behind a season-high 15 kills from senior outside hitter Dakota Pruiss (Wallkill, N.Y. / Wallkill).

Blujus compiled 25 assists, 19 digs and seven kills, Fields had nine kills and three aces and Anderson totaled eight kills and three blocks.  Campbell bested her previous single-match season high for digs with 28.

"Sloane stepped up today and really played a mature brand of volleyball," Stokes said. "She's found her confidence and it's helping our game with the way that she produced for us."

Up next, Potsdam will play at SUNY Canton Tuesday at 7 p.m. in a nonconference match.