Blue Jays vs. Violets: The Only Downbeat in a Triumphant Season

When right side Corey Loupee was unable to corral middle Kendyl Dunn’s blistering kill, signaling the end of the opening-round Division III NCAA women’s volleyball tournament match between Polytechnic Institute of NYU and NYU, the Fighting Blue Jays didn’t shed any tears.

There were very few sad faces, either. Sure, the Violets had eliminated them from the tournament, 25-15, 25-12, 25-14, at the Jerome S. Coles Sports Center in Manhattan Thursday night. But the Brooklyn math, science, and engineering school’s presence on such a stage was remarkable in itself: the first time a Polytechnic varsity team of any kind had competed in an NCAA Tournament in its 155-year history.

“It’s thrilling,” second-year coach Marc Solondz said. “It’s a great honor to coach a team that was able to do something historic.”

Just four days before, the Blue Jays had knocked off Sage Colleges, their fierce rival, in a thrilling five-setter. They came from 11-14 behind in the final set in front of a packed home crowd to claim their first Skyline Conference crown, an undefeated league season, and the automatic bid that went with it.

“Probably the most stressful game I ever played,” senior setter/libero Jacquline Johnson recalled. “Personally, it was a dream come true.”

Thursday night was an even greater stage, against NYU, the school Polytechnic forged an affiliation with last year. The Blue Jays got off to a slow start, conceding the first eight points of the match. They dropped that first set, 25-15, and the second one, too 25-12, trailing the entire way. The third set was a different story, the underdog scrapping for leads for the first half of the set, led by the accurate hitting of Loupee, middle Victoria Kalvert, and outside hitter Meredith Shipman, before a crippling 14-2 NYU run turned the tables.

“They were nervous, but they did well,” Solondz said. “We lost to a better team today. You can’t spot a team eight points out of the gate. Even if you play better, it’s a lot to overcome.”

The Blue Jays (25-10) didn’t have an answer for Dunn, the NYU (29-9) star who finished with a match-high 11 kills and five digs. Kalvert, the Skyline Conference Player of the Year, led Polytechnic with six kills, six digs, and two blocks. Shipman also had six kills and added seven digs and Johnson, the lone senior starter, had 15 assists.

“I’ll remember the organization,” Shipman, last year’s Skyline Player of the Year, said of her first NCAA Tournament. “It was very official. I felt important.”

Known for they’re powerful hitting — Kalvert, Shipman and Loupee finished first, second and ninth, respectively in the Skyline Conference in kill percentage — Polytechnic struggled putting swings away, combining for a 34 percent success rate against NYU. They struggled against the Violets’ lanky arms and quick digging in the back. Polytechnic also committed six service errors, two apiece by Loupee and right side Marissa Mauerhan.

Solondz was hardly disappointed by his club’s gutty effort. NYU hails from the University Athletic Association, which has produced the last two national champions, and is regarded as the best conference in the nation. The two sides met to kick off the season back on September 9, a match NYU won, 25-7, 25-13, 25-16.

“We need to get there,” he said, referring to NYU’s level of play. “We aren’t there yet, but we’ll get there. It just takes some time.”

With only Johnson, who split setting and libero duties with freshman Nicole Breitbart, graduating, the future is bright for Polytechnic. After the Blue Jays dressed and prepared to head home in the brisk New York night, they were already thinking about next season and the many possibilities.

“Hopefully we can get out of the first round next time,” Kalvert said. “It’s our goal.”