BOSTON, Mass. – After a disappointing campaign in 2012 that saw the program post an under .500 record (14-18) for just the second time in the past 17 seasons, the Emmanuel College women's volleyball team rebounded with a stellar year in 2013 that saw berths to both the GNAC Championship and ECAC tournament.
One week into the season, EC saw some first-hand growing pains of a young team as they stood with a 1-6 record. Their lone victory came against Hartwick College at the 44th Annual Oneonta State Invitational.
On Sept. 7, the Saints finally began to click, capturing a pair of victories during day 2 action on the Brandeis Invitational. The first win of the day marked a career milestone for EC Head Coach Denitra Seals who posted her 100th career victory with a 3-0 decision over Wesleyan University before following it up with a 3-1 win over Babson.
Emmanuel continue to roll, posting a 3-0 victory over Colleges of the Fenway rival Wentworth and a tri-match sweep over Bay Path and Gordon College to even their record at 6-6.
On September 28, the Saints opened up Great Northeast Athletic Conference play with an impressive 3-0 victory over Johnson & Wales University as well as a hard-fought 3-2 win over Lasell College. JWU had been picked to finish second in the GNAC Pre-Season Coaches' Poll so the win helped the young squad gain confidence heading into the remainder of conference matches.
After dropping a non-conference decision to Keene State to open October, Emmanuel rolled off six straight wins with non-conference wins over Wheaton and Lesley as well as GNAC tri-match sweeps over Albertus Magnus/Mount Ida and Anna Maria/Suffolk to improve to 6-0 in conference play.
Three more conference victories over Norwich, Saint Joseph's College (ME) and Simmons set the stage for an October 26 showdown against Rivier University. Both programs stood at 9-0 entering the day and the potential No. 1 seed in the GNAC tournament could be at stake for the victor. Unfortunately for Emmanuel, Rivier was too much to handle and cruised to a 3-0 win. EC remained focused and a win later in the afternoon against University of Saint Joseph (CT), clinched the No. 2 spot in the GNAC playoffs.
Emmanuel hosted Suffolk University in the 7/2 GNAC Quarterfinal matchup and had no trouble with the Rams en route to a 3-0 (26-24, 25-10, 25-16) win. Up next, EC battled Johnson & Wales in the GNAC Semifinals to an exciting 3-1 victory behind a 16 kill performance by freshman outside hitter Cassie Chruscielski (Duluth, Minn.).
The Saints got the rematch they wanted in the Finals as Rivier University held seed, giving EC a shot at redemption from their only regular-season GNAC loss. Despite dropping sets one and two, Emmanuel showed tremendous fight and was able to capture the third set, 25-19, the first GNAC set the Raiders had lost all season long. Emmanuel held a lead early in the fourth set before Rivier pulled away for the 3-1 win in the Championship game.
With a 23-13 record, Emmanuel earned a berth to the ECAC New England Tournament as the No. 6 seed but their season would end with a 3-0 loss to No. 3 Endicott College. This was a rematch of the 2011 ECAC Quarterfinal meeting between the two programs in which Endicott also won, 3-2.
Several Saints were recognized on the GNAC All-Conference teams. Chruscielski was named to the GNAC First Team and was tabbed the GNAC Rookie of the Year. The outside hitter compiled one of the best rookie campaigns in the program's history as she finished the season with a team-best 304 kills which ranks 11th all-time for kills in a single-season. Her kill total ranked fourth among GNAC leaders while her 60 service aces ranked second in the conference.
Joining her on the GNAC All-Conference team were freshman middle hitter Kaitlyn Atkinson (Brookline, N.H.) and sophomore setter Shannon Dudley (Morro Bay, Calif.). Both were tabbed second team selections as Atkinson averaged 2.55 kills per set to lead the Saints while her 281 kills was just behind Chruscielski to rank second on the unit. Dudley compiled 902 assists to rank second in the GNAC and second all-time among single-season leader in EC program history.
For her leadership and guidance, Seals was tabbed the GNAC Coach of the Year.
The future looks bright for the Saints who did not have one senior on their 2013 roster. The unit will look to make another run at a GNAC title in 2014 with an entire roster of returners, the reigning GNAC Coach of the Year and a core of solid newcomers.