The mood in Pritchard Gymnasium at Stony Brook University last weekend was electric as the volleyball team fought to defend its America East Championship. It was tense five-set battle with SUNY Albany in the final, but Stony Brook prevailed and earned its second consecutive trip to the NCAA Volleyball Tournament.
“The season as a whole…the team was on a mission,” said second-year head coach Kristin Belzung. “We wanted to host the conference championship and win it at home.” The Seawolves went undefeated in conference play. Belzung noted that all the players came to practice every day committed to putting in the work necessary to achieve their goals.
Stony Brook had a volleyball team that won matches, but fell short of advancing in postseason. That has changed under Belzung, who has made the Seawolves a team that not only wins games but also pushes for a place on the national stage.
“When I got here, we had some really dynamic athletes,” said Belzung. “We spent a lot of time emphasizing defense last year. In the offseason, we focused on scoring and serving. That made us a more well-rounded team.”
Stony Brook is an extremely demanding academic institution, which Belzung appreciates, finding that the motivation and discipline the student-athletes have in the classroom carries into practice. Volleyball is a fall sport, so it’s intense, but Belzung and her staff make sure the players still enjoy the game.
“By the time you get to November, if you’re not still loving volleyball, then it’s hard to come into the gym motivated every day,” Belzung said. “We have a really good group that has a lot of fun and enjoys the process. That makes it easier to work through the grind.”
The Seawolves’ first-round opponent will be announced Sunday. Last year, the team was content to make the tournament. This year, the players want more. Among those are middle blocker McKyla Brooks, who notched 13 kills and five blocks in Saturday’s conference final. Belzung described Brooks as an incredible athlete and an explosive player. Outside hitter Emily Costello was Most Outstanding Player of the America East Championship. Now a graduate student, Costello has flourished under Belzung’s leadership.
“The girls are a little hungrier to make some noise,” said Belzung. “I think they’re on a mission to compete and show the work they’ve put in.”