It was going to be the perfect weekend for the Manhattan Jaspers.
First, it was a comeback win against the Siena Saints on Saturday after being down two sets. Then, it would have been an impressive victory over the Marist Red Foxes on Sunday after dropping the first set. And to cap it off, the win on Sunday would have not only clinched a spot in the MAAC Tournament, but would also have given the Jaspers a firm lead in second place in the standings, with a shot to finish first.
With the Jaspers up 2-1 and leading 21-12 in the fourth set against Marist on Sunday, it seemed like a foregone conclusion that the team would accomplish all of that.
But then, it happened quickly. The Jaspers imploded, blowing a nine-point lead, and allowing Marist to go on a 13-2 run to win the fourth set. In the fifth set, a combination of momentum gained by Marist and utter disbelief at giving away the previous set from Manhattan propelled Marist to win the set 15-8, and the match 3-2.
Just like that, what seemed to be a statement-making weekend, turned into a heart-breaking, reality-check one.
The loss to the Red Foxes, after a thrilling victory against the Saints the day before, highlighted Manhattan’s biggest problem this season: consistency.
“We show up every day like a different team,” Ivana Kostic, middle-blocker for the Jaspers said after the loss to Marist. “We don’t really play consistent. That’s why it happens, that we beat Siena and lose to Marist, who we already beat. … I don’t even know what to expect, so we need to pick up with the consistency and play the same every day.”
It’s been difficult for Manhattan to remain steady this season. Injuries to Sydney Volovski, a key member of the team for the last four seasons has forced head coach Mark Jones to play around with the lineup. At different points this season, Volovski’s spot has been occupied by Casey Monroe, Mary Donnelly, and for the last three matches, by Olyvia Chaltas.
It’s been part of the reason why Manhattan’s season has been riddled with streaks. The team began this season 5-1, only to lose the next four in a row. Since then, the Jaspers have failed to go on more than a three-game winning streak. It seems as if any time they win two or three in a row, they lose a match.
Whenever the team is on the verge of gaining some momentum that could potentially drive it to the top of the standings, it loses a match it should have won.
On Oct. 7, after the Jaspers had won three consecutive matches, they lost on the road to Farleigh Dickinson, a team that was 5-11 at the time of the meeting, and is now just 9-16. On Oct. 25, after winning three in a row again, the Jaspers lost a road-match against Canisius, who is just 6-7 in the MAAC.
Sunday afternoon was another prime example, as the Jaspers had the match almost wrapped up, leading 2-1 in the match and 21-12 in the fourth set. But again, the team just could not put Marist away.
For Jade Gray, a senior and captain on the team, the loss against Marist was avoidable.
“It’s very frustrating to look back on because you don’t realize when you’re in the moment how much of a lead you have,” Gray said. “Then, it slowly gets smaller and you’re like, ‘Wow, we really should have finished that game.’ It’s very frustrating.”
Perhaps overconfidence was a reason for the lead slipping away. It’s what Kostic believed happened.
“I think we just thought we had them,” Kostic said, “so we were like, ‘Okay. We got it. It’s okay.’ But then, it’s really not. I think we just expected to win, and didn’t work to win.”
If there was one positive from Sunday’s nightmare, it was the play of Chaltas, who started a third consecutive match in place of Volovski, and who posted double-digit kills for the second straight day.
Chaltas could become the third consistent scoring threat for the Jaspers, joining Claire Van Dyk and Milena Janjusevic, who have been Manhattan’s go-to players on offense this season.
“I think it’s the mentality,” Chaltas said about why she has been able to step in and play well after not playing much throughout the season. “I want to go in there and I want to play well for myself, for my team, and my coaches. I just want to help us out as much as I can.”
If the team is going to find consistency, it starts now, as there are only three matches left in the conference schedule. The Jaspers are still in prime position to reach the MAAC Tournament, but the remaining matches will be vital for where they end up in the standings.
The team sits in fourth place, but just a game out of second, which would give it a bye in the first round of the tournament.
But before the Jaspers think about seeding, they are worried about reaching a level of play they can maintain for the final stretch.
“I think it starts in practice,” Gray said about how the team can find consistency. “I think that’s the most important place. It’s coming down to MAACs almost, so these next three games are very crucial for us. So, I think it starts in practice with going 100 percent and pushing to the end.”