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Pain from SUNYAC loss fuels '15 ambition
Monday, August 31, 2015

Pain from SUNYAC loss fuels '15 ambition

Head Coach Geoff Braun conducts a chalk talk during the 2015 preseason.

Senior libero Lauren Hokaj (Lancaster, N.Y./St. Mary's of Lancaster) was in tears as she ripped off her kneepads after the 2014 SUNYAC Championship match.

After a 3-1 win against Buffalo State in the SUNYAC playoff semifinal last season, the Blue Devils faltered in the championship match against New Paltz. Aggressive serving from the Hawks was too much for Fredonia's passers to handle.

Hokaj, Fredonia's top passer, remembers the match well.

"After the game ended it was devastating," she said. "There definitely was a pain in my chest after that one. All I know is that I don't want to feel that way again after this season, especially for us seniors."

Returning all six starters from 2014 will go a long way in avoiding the same situation. The 2015 squad will again be led by the four seniors who've become bedrocks of the team's success: Hokaj, middle blocker Jessica DiChristopher (Cheektowaga, N.Y./ West Seneca East), opposite Paulina Rein (Baldwinsville, N.Y./C.W. Baker), and setter Kelly Edinger (Rochester, N.Y./Greece Athena).

All four have been named All-SUNYAC multiple times. Additionally, DiChristopher was named 2014 Honorable Mention All-American by the American Volleyball Coaches Association. Though the accomplishments through the first three years have been impressive, both a SUNYAC title and a bid to the NCAA Tournament have eluded them.

"The seniors haven't achieved everything they want to on the court yet," Head Coach Geoff Braun said. "They all have something to prove. This group now understands what it takes to be a cohesive unit and they will be key in setting an example in that regard."

Though the team hasn't lost any starters from last year, repeating the same formula from 2014 is unlikely to produce the desired outcome. Key losses early in 2014 to top regional opponents eliminated any opportunity for an NCAA at-large bid.

"We will prepare better for each match," Braun said of what he'll do differently for 2015. "I want to make sure everyone understands what a bad loss or a quality win could do for us toward the end of the season. Preparation is something that will open the door to postseason opportunities."

The preparation will include the integration of several new players.

Leading the list of new faces on the 2015 team are two players from top high school volleyball programs: Rachel Aiello (Baldwinsville, N.Y./C.W. Baker) and Kailey Falk (York, N.Y./Our Lady of Mercy). Both are expected to compete for playing time as freshmen.

Both Rachel and Kailey have played at a high level and are experienced playing in high pressure situations," Braun said. "The potential for them to see playing time depends on how quickly they adjust to a new environment and how they can handle the pressure of competing for time at their positions. As with anyone, hard work usually pays off in some way."

Also new this year are Natalie Berrafato (Williamsville, N.Y./Williamsville East), Alex Allard (Buffalo, N.Y./Amherst), and sophomore transfer Hallie Christopher (East Amherst, N.Y./Clarence).

After naming only one captain, Rein, in 2014, Braun chose to name four more in anticipation of a larger 2015 roster. Joining Rein this year will be Edinger and the team's three juniors: Saverina Chicka (Shelter Island, N.Y./Shelter Island), Megan Collins (Burlingham, N.Y./Pine Bush), and Sara Madison (Rochester, N.Y./Penfield).

"Each of the captains leads in a different way," Braun said. "They each bring something that, from a leadership standpoint, will benefit the team. I wanted to make sure they were all confident using the leadership qualities they possess. Every team is different and I am excited to see how this group works together."

Braun speculated after the 2014 season that the team should have had a more sustained, focused effort all season long. The championship loss to New Paltz continues to linger as a reminder of what kind of effort is needed.

"I think it was a real eye opener for us all." Hokaj said. "We worked hard, but we need to work even harder. Last season is over and done with. It's time for a brand new one, a clean slate. Sometimes it takes a loss like that to realize what we need to do to prepare and I know that's exactly what we are going to do for this season."

The Blue Devils open up their regular season on Tuesday, Sept. 1 in Meadville, Pa. against Allegheny.

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