UConn (4-2) heads to Philadelphia for the Villanova Classic where they will clash against Albany (0-6), Villanova (4-2) and Princeton (3-1). They open up against Albany Friday morning at 11, then take on Villanova Friday evening at 7:30 before wrapping up against Princeton Saturday at 11 a.m..
The Huskies had a successful home opener, sweeping Hartford and Iona, but fell to LSU in five sets. However, head coach Kris Grunwald was impressed with the effort he saw from his squad.
“The LSU match was a high and low for us. We played really well in game one and beat a very physical SEC team,” Grunwald said. “Shortly into game two, we lost one of our seniors and most physical weapons to an injury. It deflated us for a while but we responded and stretched the match to the fifth game.
“Having the ability to fight back from that kind of emotional loss against that level of team showed a lot of heart. I’m not sure we were capable of that in previous years, so this team has already shown a high level of resiliency that is exciting to see and something we will need moving forward,” Grunwald said.
Through six matchups, redshirt sophomore Kayla Williams leads the team with 75 kills, junior Emma Turner leads the team in assists with 203 (45 against LSU alone) and junior Kennedy Arundel leads the team with 82 digs. Arundel was also named the defensive player of the week for her stellar performance at the St. John’s Invitational.
Albany has gotten off to a rough start. They have plenty of talent, however, and could swipe a game if UConn overlooks them, but Grunwald doesn’t see that happening.
“Their record means nothing,” Grunwald said. “They opened up the season in California playing top 25 teams and have continued to play a very difficult schedule. Second, they beat us last season at the Army invitational. So, I don't think we will be looking beyond them at all.”
Albany is led by Akuabata Okenwa, who has smashed 55 kills, while the team has a total of 201. Defensively, Nicole Otero leads the team with 74 digs.
UConn plays Villanova in the nightcap Friday and the Wildcats will be hungry for a win, coming off two brutal losses against the No. 4 seed Texas and No. 17 seed San Diego.
Villanova is led by Amanda Pedersen-Henry and Allie Loitz. Pederson-Henry has been a monster for Villanova as she leads the team with 65 kills. Loitz has been extremely effective offensively and defensively as she has 44 kills and 31 digs.
“Villanova has some very talented players. They are receiving votes for national recognition,” Grunwald said. “So, it will be a difficult match. At this stage of the season we will cover our scouting report on them but the main focus will be the technical and tactical execution on our side of the net.”
The Huskies will wrap up their weekend against Princeton, and Grunwald said that the team will be prepared.
“Any time you play an Ivy League team you know you are going to have a very experienced roster with well-rounded players,” Grunwald said. “Their roster is full of California talent who have grown up playing the game, as well as very good ball handlers with high volleyball IQ. “
Grunwald has his eye on one particular player for Princeton.
“They have Maggie O'Connell from Houston,” Grunwald said. “She won the Ivy League freshman of the year last year, and is just a great player, one of my favorites. I worked with her at several camps in Texas for years and I am very aware of the damage she is capable of causing on the right side.”
Michael Logan is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.