As the volleyball season comes to a close, the Manhattan Jaspers find themselves in a heated battle for playoff positioning.
With only one match left on the schedule, Manhattan sits in third place in the MAAC, with a chance to move to second if it gets a combination of results in its favor on the final day of the regular season.
For the Jaspers to clinch the No. 2 seed, they have to beat Iona on Nov. 15 and Siena needs to lose both of its last two matches left on the season. If Siena only loses one match and Manhattan beats Iona, despite winning, Manhattan will not obtain second place because it would be tied with Siena at 13-5 and Siena holds the tiebreaker since it beat Manhattan twice during the regular season.
Although Manhattan finds itself depending on other results to work in its favor, the fact remains that it at least still has a chance at being the second place team, who along with the first in the standings receives a first round bye in the MAAC Championship scheduled to begin on Nov. 20.
“I think it’s important,” head coach Mark Jones said about potentially finishing in second place and receiving a first round bye. “You won’t have to play so many matches to get to the finals, so I think that can play a part especially in a three-day tournament.”
Junior Claire Van Dyk agreed with her coach on the importance of being the second seed, citing the fact that the less matches the team has to play in the tournament, the better chance it has to win the championship.
“It’s just a great advantage if you can come in second,” Van Dyk said after the win against Quinnipiac.
The possible scenarios for Manhattan’s playoff positioning. Table by Daniel Ynfante.
The Jaspers have put themselves in the running for that highly coveted second seed after going 3-0 in three home matches last week.
On Wednesday Nov. 5, the Jaspers defeated Rider in three sets. On Saturday Nov. 8, they defeated Quinnipiac in four sets and on the next day, they defeated Fairfield in five sets.
But before they headed into those pivotal three matches last week, the Jaspers turned their season around when they defeated the conference-leading Marist Red Foxes on the road on Nov. 2.
Manhattan went into that contest against Marist on a two-match losing streak and as loser of three of its last four matches overall. However, things changed for the better for the Jaspers and they wound up defeating Marist in straight sets.
Since that match, the Jaspers have been red hot.
“I think we were just kind of carrying over from our match on Sunday [against Marist],” Jones said after the win against Rider, crediting the performance to the momentum the team had after defeating Marist.
“I think this team is really starting to come together, play more consistent, and I really love the energy right now. They’re just playing great as a team and I’m very proud of them right now.”
The team, which is starting to get on a roll at the right time of the season, has some added ammunition, as senior Anna Kitlar returned to action against Rider after an almost month-long absence from the team due to an injury.
Before missing the last nine games, Kitlar was a big piece for Manhattan playing at middle blocker. However, during the three matches last week, she did not play much, as Jones plans on integrating her back into the team slowly.
“I think she’s [Kitlar] an integral part of the team,” Jones said following Kitlar’s first game back against Rider. “I think Clare [Bozzo] and Marissa [Behrens] have been playing very well, so I think we’ll just kind of manage it and see what we need to do in sense of our personnel and make sure that the people in the game are being consistent. The good thing is that now we have another player that can come in and help us.”
Leading the way for Manhattan over the week were Van Dyk and Malia McGuinness.
Van Dyk registered a double-double in all three matches and led the team with 19 kills in the win against Quinnipiac and 17 kills in the win against Fairfield.
As for McGuinness, she continued her monstrous season, by also registering a double-double in all three matches. McGuinness has made a huge leap from last season where she was a consistent player, to now becoming one of the conference’s best players.
She continues to lead the MAAC in kills per set and is tenth in digs per set, making her the only player in the conference to be in the top-10 of both lists.
When asked for the biggest reason why she has played so well this season, McGuinness kept her answer short and simple. “It’s my last year. I just came ready,” she said.
McGuinness, along with two other seniors on the team will play their final home match of their careers on Senior Day, the last regular season match of the year, on Saturday Nov. 15, when they host the Iona Gaels.