Pioneers Look to Dig their Way into NEC Playoffs

The calendar has turned to Nov., which for the Sacred Heart University women’s volleyball team means the regular season is nearing an end, and the Northeast Conference (NEC) playoffs are fast approaching. 

The Pioneers, who were the unanimous favorites to win the conference back in August according to the NEC preseason poll, began their year just 2-2 in conference play. However, what followed was five straight conference wins as the Pioneers sit tied for second in the NEC conference as of Nov. 5. 

“We’re trending in the right direction after starting off a little rough in conference,” senior Sarah Ciszek said. “I think we knew we had to win, and in those situations we’re really good at being pushed and finishing and winning those games.” 

Ciszek, the reigning NEC Player of the Year, is currently third in the country in triple-doubles. She also leads the team in kills, hitting percentage, assists and service aces. 

“Sarah’s just a unique player,” head coach Rob Machan said. “What makes her special is when you need a play made, she finds a way to get it done.” 

Leading the Pioneers in kills in their last two wins and in three of their last four matches overall has been graduate student Olivia Fairchild, a transfer from Fordham University. 

“It’s nice to be able to contribute to my team on such a big level,” Fairchild said. “I love helping out however I can, and if that’s the way I’m going to contribute, then I’m proud to do it.” 

Sacred Heart’s final regular season game is a conference matchup against Merrimack on Nov. 13. The NEC tournament will take place the following week on Nov. 19 and Nov. 20. 

The Pioneers have found success around this time of year in the past, winning the NEC tournament in 2019 and entering last season’s tournament undefeated in conference play, only to be forced to forfeit the NEC championship game after a positive Covid-19 case within the program. 

“I think our confidence is at an all-time high,” junior outside hitter Jasmine Rogers said. “Right now, we’re kind of figuring out where our weaknesses are and how to handle them. Being able to acknowledge those [weaknesses]has definitely boosted our confidence heading toward the playoffs.” 

Although Sacred Heart is considered to be the favorite to win the conference, the team understands that championships aren’t awarded off of preseason polls. 

“The conference is very balanced, and there’s a lot of good teams,” Machan said. “But we feel very good about our chances, and there’s nobody that we don’t think we can handle.” 

Ciszek, playing in her last few games here at Sacred Heart and having accomplished so much in her career, has one last goal in mind. 

“We want to advance [in the NCAA tournament],” Ciszek said. “Having gotten a little taste of the tournament in 2019, we now not only want to get there, but we want to advance.” 

Sacred Heart Athletics contributed to this article.

About the author

Staff Writer

Leave a Reply