Colonials lose heartbreaking five-set thriller to UIC; extend winless drought

RMU+volleyball+lost+to+UIC.

Photo by Ethan Morrison

RMU volleyball lost to UIC.

By Michael Deemer, Contributor

MOON TOWNSHIP– Danny Doherty’s second game at the helm of the interim coach for RMU was optimistic. The Colonials (9-20, 2-15 Horizon) faced the UIC Flames (17-11, 13-3) in their penultimate game of the regular season.

A 10-game losing streak going into Friday makes it the longest active losing streak in the conference while UIC comes in as one of the hottest in the Horizon League winning 8 of their last 9, including 3 straight. These 2 have already squared off back on October 17 with a 3-0 Flames sweep in Chicago.

The first half started positively for the Colonials, holding on to the lead for a majority of the set, and ended up winning it 25-22, which pleased Doherty.

“We ran as a collective unit. We’re still running as a collective unit. We’re doing what we need to do to help these girls have a strong season to the finish.”

The second set was tight from start to finish. A lot of longer rallies showed how evenly matched these two Horizon League foes were as they went to extra time. Winning set 2 was not going to come easy as neither side wanted to give it up. Finally, UIC broke through the nailbiter with a 34-32 victory, with 25 ties in the set alone.

“That was unreal. It’s one of the highest that I’ve been a part of in my coaching career. It was back and forth,” Doherty said. “We gritted and wore out our defense. We had 72 digs in 5 sets. That’s the longest it’s been in a long time. We put ourselves in a position to do that. A couple of things didn’t go our way. But we fought tooth and nail as much as we could. Just couldn’t get it out.”

It was tough sledding for the Colonials at the start of the 3rd, though. UIC had a commanding 10-0 lead to start things off before the Colonials could get on the board. The Flames’ sizzling start was too much for the Colonials as they ended up taking the lead 25-14.

It was catch-up time now for the Colonials in the 4th, as they were determined to erase this losing streak. Again, the set was close but it was the Colonials who controlled their destiny, again leading the majority of it once again, tieing the match up at 2, 25-22

“Our girls had a great focus. They came out with a very high will to win and will to execute…and that’s a dang good team and the girls came out…with a will to not lose, and that’s been a primary focus for them. They did a great job with it.”

The Colonials started the fifth set strong leading it early 3-1, but a blazing 6-1 by the Flames made it 8-4, and eventually 11-6. That barrage was too much for the Colonials as they lose a heartbreaker 15-9.

It was the Salma Abdelhady show for UIC. The 6 foot 10 Egyptian freshmen led the game with 24 kills and 26.5 points. Doherty praised Abdelhady.

“[She] was a force. She’s gotten progressively better as the year has played out. When she was available to take some swings, she surely took them.”

Paola Santiago did a lot of the offensive workload for the Flames as well with 18 kills and 13 digs. Sohila Wallick did not disappoint setting, assisting on 58 UIC points.

The Colonials were led by Annie Monaco’s 15 kills and second in digs with 16 (Allena Carmody, 22) Alyson Londot (12) and Alysa Hudak (10) both had double-digit kills as well. Hudak and Granger each had 8 blocks.

Megan Cannon. Emily Devlin. Emma Granger. Alyssa Hudak. Alyson Londot. Nikolette Zanolli.

All 6 of these girls will play their final game as a Colonial on Sunday afternoon. Coach Doherty shared his emotions for Sunday’s finale.

“I’m feeling all the emotions. We have six amazing kids who have matured over the past 4 or 5 years. It’s always an emotional toll and…those kids… it’s an end for them, but one of the greatest things is knowing you’ve been a part of what they are and who they are. So, I’m not sad. I don’t think I’ll ever be sad because I’m excited for the next steps that they’re all going to make in their lives.”

Those six seniors I’m sure will be emotional leaving the UPMC Events Center one final time Sunday afternoon against Green Bay at 2 pm.