When the Manhattan volleyball team stepped onto the floor on Nov.15 against Iona, it was confronting a match with several implications.
Not only was Manhattan in dire need of a win in order to stay in the race for second place in the MAAC, but it was also the last match of the season. With a win, the Jaspers would lock up a second consecutive 20-win season and would tie a school-record for conference wins at 13. As if all that was not enough, it was also Senior Day, which signaled the last home match in a Manhattan uniform for seniors Malia McGuinness, Anna Kitlar and Sarah Haselhorst.
However, the Jaspers delivered on this day with gigantic proportions and ensured that their three seniors were victorious in their final match at Draddy Gymnasium.
The Jaspers defeated the Iona Gaels in straight sets and with the win, locked up the No. 3 seed for the MAAC Tournament.
“They [the three seniors] mean so much to this program and they’ve really worked hard,” head coach Mark Jones said about his three seniors.
“There’s been a lot of adversity the whole entire way, but I think they’ve been very committed to this program and working hard every year. I’m very proud of the seniors, and it’s hard to believe we still have next week at the conference tournament, but they’re going to be sadly missed.”
In the first set, Jones sent out a starting lineup that featured his three seniors. Kitlar, who just recently returned to the team after missing almost a month due to illness, joined the starting lineup for the first time since Oct. 8.
The Jaspers and Gaels were neck and neck through the first two dozen points with the Jaspers holding a 13-12 lead. A McGuinness kill led Manhattan to score 12 of the last 16 points and win the first set 25-16.
The first half of the second set was a mere image of the first half of the first set, as the Jaspers once again held a 13-12 lead. This time, they would not go on a killer rally to end the set, as Iona kept itself within striking distance the whole time.
The furthest Manhattan would run away by was four points when it led 23-19. Iona would score four of the next five points to trail 24-23, but a McGuinness kill gave Manhattan a 25-23 second set victory.
In the third set, the Jaspers looked poised to run away with it, as they got off to a 15-7 lead. Iona got back into the set cutting the lead to four at 15-11 and kept itself in the game during the next dozen points.
Manhattan held match point at 24-19 but Iona staved off defeat twice to make it 24-21. Then, as she had done over 1,000 times in her career, McGuinness went soaring in the air for what would signal her last kill at home. The kill gave Manhattan a 25-21 third set victory and subsequently, a 3-0 match win.
McGuinness led the way for the Jaspers with her fifth straight double-double and 21st on the season, with 16 kills and 10 digs. Claire Van Dyk was right behind her with a double-double of her own with 13 kills and 11 digs. The other two seniors also played their parts in the win, as Kitlar wound up with five kills and a block, and Haselhorst had double-digit digs with 10.
“It was a lot of fun. I mean I was really excited,” McGuinness said about playing in her final home match of her career. “I’ve been like, I wouldn’t say looking forward to this day for a while, but it’s just that it’s a big deal here and it’s really nice, especially when I was here for four years.”
Besides delivering a victory for the three seniors, Manhattan also clinched the third seed at next week’s MAAC Tournament where it will take on either Niagara or Canisisus.
“The championship is up for grabs,” McGuinness said about the MAAC Tournament. “Nobody knows who’s going to win.”
The Jaspers could have viewed ending up in third place as a letdown, but Jones believes Manhattan will be a dangerous third seed in the tournament.
“We’ve won the last five matches in a row and I think that kind of tells you what kind of team we’ve been playing like in the second half, gradually getting better,” Jones said. “I think it shows in the matches, we’ve done a few different things to really peak at the right time and I think the team is really committed to being successful.”
With the victory, Manhattan clinched its second straight 20-win season and tied a program record with 13 conference wins, which it set just last season. The team has been a model of consistency for the past five seasons, finishing at or above .500 each year.
“I think it says we have some great kids that came here, worked hard, that really wanted to be successful and I’m really proud of them,” Jones said about what the team’s accomplishments in the last two seasons say about the program. “Everything that we wanted out of them, we’re getting more than I could ever expect.”