As Manhattan’s volleyball season enters its home stretch, the contributions it gets from its players become that much more important.
The Jaspers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the MAAC and one slip up can prove costly.
But in the month of October, three Jaspers, Jade Gray, Claire Van Dyk and Malia McGuinness, have gone on career stretches, putting up numbers that have translated into Manhattan victories.
Before the calendar turned to October, the Jaspers were losers of five of their last seven matches. The team lost its first two contests of the month, but then went on a six-match winning streak that clinched a winning month no matter the results of the remaining matches in October.
At the center of the Jasper’s success in October has been McGuinness.
The senior outside hitter has registered eight double-doubles in nine matches, has had two 20-20 performances and has reached the 20 kill mark four times.
She has made a case to be considered for MAAC Player of the Year, leading the conference in kills per set with 3.57 and placing ninth in digs per set with 3.73.
“She [McGuinness] is definitely a leader on the team,” head coach Mark Jones said in an interview with The Quadrangle last week. “We need her to show up, we need her to get the points for us. We are expecting that, and I know she expects that from herself as well.”
McGuinness has done just that and has received much recognition in the meantime. For her stellar performance on the week of Oct. 6, McGuinness was named MAAC Player of the Week and ECAC Player of the Week as well.
Adding to the list of her accomplishments was on Oct. 4 when McGuinness became the fifth player in Manhattan history to reach the 1,000 kill-1,000 dig club.
But McGuinness hasn’t been the lone Jasper collecting double-digit kills and digs match after match. Van Dyk has been right behind her all month with five double-doubles in nine matches.
In the match against Canisius on Oct. 25, Van Dyk had her highest scoring total in a Manhattan uniform with 17 kills and two service aces.
In the win against Iona on Oct. 18, the first road win against Iona since 2006, Van Dyk played a crucial part in the match with a career high 19 digs.
During the Jaspers’ recent six-match winning streak, Van Dyk registered double-digit digs and kills in five of the six matches.
“I definitely worked on my approach, bringing it in a little,” Van Dyk believes is the reason why she has played so well lately. “I’m just being more consistent and limiting the errors, and it’s something I’ve still got to focus on.”
But McGuinness and Van Dyk’s play has been made much simpler thanks to the playmaking ability of setter Jade Gray.
Gray, who was forced to fill in for an injured Teodora Peric on Oct. 11 has risen her level of play to an unforeseen level.
In her first match filling in for Peric, Gray missed a triple-double by one kill. As if that wasn’t enough, Gray dished out a career-high 54 assists in the following match.
In her five matches as a starter, Gray is averaging 11.65 assists per set. To get a sense of the magnitude of this number, consider that the assist per set leader in the MAAC, Marist’s Amanda Schlegel, averages 10.38 assists per set.
To go along with her superb playmaking ability, Gray has recorded double-digit digs in four of her five matches as a starter.
But with the return of Peric from injury, Jones faces a lineup conundrum. Does he start Peric, who was the regular starter before she got hurt? Or does he ride out Gray’s hot streak?
“I don’t know, I think Tea [Peric] does great at it, and I think we’re both very different players,” Gray said about the possibility of becoming a regular starter following her near triple-double performance on Oct. 11. “We both do great roles, and whoever goes in, we both do a great job. So I think you know, that it’s up to him [Jones].”
And Jones seems to have made his decision as Gray has started the last three matches even though Peric is healthy again.
However, Jones does not want to read into this decision too much and stressed that it can change.
“I think we’ll see what happens,” Jones said about his decision to start the red-hot Gray over Peric. “I think Jade has definitely proven herself and she’s worked hard. She has a lot of respect from her teammates and every day she comes and she gives 100 percent…”
“…We’ll just go match by match, but right now, Jade’s our starting setter.”