Blackbirds still looking for leadership after victory over Fresno State

September 12, 2014 By Rob Abruzzese Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Senior Annika Foit, the two-time Northeast Conference Player of the Year, led the LIU Brooklyn volleyball team with 18 kills during their 3-1 victory over Fresno State on Wednesday. Photo by Rob Abruzzese.
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On paper, the LIU Brooklyn women’s volleyball team is better this year than it was last, but reality might be a bit different. Head coach Kyle Robinson thought the Blackbirds demonstrated a lack of leadership during their victory over Fresno State on Wednesday.

“I thought we played really well for the first set and a half,” Robinson said. “I think we’re lacking a little bit of leadership that kind of keeps us pushing ahead, that says, ‘hey, we have to finish the job without taking a nap in between.’”

The Blackbirds (4-3) beat Fresno State three sets to one (25-19, 25-23, 23-25, 25-16) during their home opener on Wednesday, but struggled in the second set after a hot start and dropped the third set before they rallied in the fourth set for the victory.

Annika Foit led the team with 18 kills, Tamara Ignjic had 15 kills, Vera Djuric had 47 assists and 19 digs and Adriana Viñas Joy had 25 digs.

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“We still have the ability to kind of turn it on, but I don’t know if we can turn it back on to 90 or 100 percent where we want it to be,” Robinson said. “They took a nap and they paid for it. We’ll learn a lesson and get better from it.”

The Blackbirds are a powerhouse in the Northeast Conference, having won back-to-back NEC titles and are picked to win a third straight in a preseason coach’s poll. All but one of the players from last year’s team have returned and they added a quality freshman in Sonja Vukosavljevic. Still, the loss of Jessica Rice hurts.

“There has been that talk within the staff that we lost a kid (Rice) that has six years of experience,” Robinson said. “I don’t know 100 percent of what goes on outside the gym, but I do know that in here Jess made statements every day and kept the girls working hard so we did lose a little piece of leadership.”

The Blackbirds came out strong against Fresno State and led 11-6 early in the first set and eventually put them with an 8-4 run. They came out strong in the second set as well, leading 18-8 at one point, but Fresno State rallied behind a 11-3 run that put the pressure on the Blackbirds.

“We just didn’t push through and we let them come back,” said Foit, the back-to-back NEC Player of the Year. “You could see it in the second set. We were up 18-9 and that’s a really big lead and at the end it was 25-23. We have to, even though we are up that much we have to make sure that we’re still pushing, still going hard and just kill the other team.”

The Blackbirds scored first in the third set, but never lead again that set in a 25-23 defeat. In the locker room afterward, Foit said Robinson told them they looked like they were playing scared and playing down to the competition.

That triggered something. LIU rallied in the fourth set and never trailed after they took a 4-3 lead en route to a nine-point victory.

“At that point, we just wanted to get it done. We didn’t want a fifth set. We knew we could beat them, we know that we are better than them.”

After the game, Robinson addressed the team and then pulled its three captains aside and challenged them to step up.

“We’re talented in every rotation,” Robinson said. “When our passers are passing, offensively we’re close to unstoppable. When we can go fast to our middle and open up things for Annika Foit, she’s deadly. Our defense is not as sharp and crisp as it normally is, but when it’s on, Adriana (Viñas Joy), nobody is touching her.

“When everything is on, we have no worries,” he continued. “It’s just a matter of keeping them focused.”

The Blackbirds have now won three straight, including a huge win over previously undefeated Alabama. They will host Northern Kentucky, Boston College and Temple in this weekend’s Blackbird Invitational.

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