LEWISTON — On a night when the first-ever Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference championship volleyball banner was unfurled at the Gallagher Center, leave it regional rival Buffalo to steal the hosts thunder.
Despite clawing back for a dramatic win in the fourth game, the Niagara women dropped their home opener, 20-25, 25-12, 25-20, 26-28, 15-12 in a thrilling non-league contest on Wednesday, falling for the first time at home since Sept. 20 of last season.
And although the reigning MAAC champs have plenty of time to work out the kinks before conference play begins, a few signs were troubling in the loss — the team’s attack percentage was a paltry .057, experienced players made crucial errors at key times, and the Purple Eagles seemed to lack the energy of the visitors.
Junior setter Michelle James said the team, which had few expectations heading into last season but entered this year as the conference favorite, simply needs time to assume its new role.
“I think it’s just the beginning. We’re still working on our problems,” said James, who had 37 kills, eight digs and five kills, but also had a service error on the match’s final point. “We’re still working on our communication, even though we were a team last season, it’s a whole new season. It’s a great feeling that we have a couple (accomplishments), but we’re not satisfied.”
Niagara (2-2) got out of the gate strong, winning the opener by a 25-20 count as Hannah Hedrick’s kill put the game on ice.
In the second game, however, UB (3-1) came storming back behind some big hits from Abby Niekamp, a Florida State transfer, as the Bulls broke a 10-10 tie by rattling off 15 of the next 17 points.
“I’m proud of the will of our team, we came out in the second game and made a statement,” UB coach Todd Kress said. “We’ve talked a lot to Abby. She’s in a different role, she’s a captain. She wasn’t her best in West Virginia last weekend, but she bounced back and had a great night.”