Courtesy: Carlisle Stockton

2016 Volleyball Season Recap

Courtesy: Fairfield University
January 03, 2017

An unprecedented run through the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. A nationally-recognized winning streak. A MAAC-record ninth trip to the NCAA postseason. The accomplishments of the 2016 Fairfield University volleyball team exceeded even the high expectations put upon a program returning 10 student-athletes from the Stags’ 2015 MAAC Championship squad.

The Stags were just the second team to finish 18-0 in the MAAC regular season and the first to cap that feat by winning the MAAC Championship. That 20-match run through the conference was a part of a 22-match winning streak – the longest streak in the nation during the 2016 season. Fairfield’s season ended at No. 15 Michigan State in the NCAA Championship First Round with a record of 28-6.

“Now that we have had some time to sit back and reflect, the 2016 season will go down as one of the best in program history,” said Head Coach Todd Kress. “I am overly proud of this group and what they were able to accomplish. We lost two key starters, and the team didn’t miss a beat after the injuries.  Where this would have been used as an excuse for most teams, this group used it as motivation to do even greater.  Winning 22 matches in a row after those injuries is something I will always remember as a great feat and something that they should all be very proud of. “

Winners of four of the last five MAAC Championships, the Stags’ postseason triumph was their ninth overall – tying Siena for the conference record. Fairfield’s 28 wins are the third-most in program history and the most since the Stags had back-to-back 30-win campaigns in 1998 (35-2) and 1999 (30-4). The 22-match winning streak was the second-longest ever for a Fairfield team, eclipsed only by the 1998 Stags’ 27-match run.

Statistically, Fairfield led the MAAC in kills per set (14.15), hitting percentage (.242), assists per set (13.38), digs per set (15.68) and opponent hitting percentage (.158). The Stags have won 31 consecutive matches against MAAC foes dating back to 2015, which will be the third-longest active conference winning streak in the nation entering the 2017 campaign.

While it took a true team effort for the Stags to reach such heights during the 2016 season, Fairfield was fueled by a number of outstanding individual performances throughout the fall. The Stags collected nine of 12 MAAC Player of the Week nods – including eight of nine during conference play – in addition to four MAAC Libero of the Week honors for Mallory Bechtold and three MAAC Rookie of the Week recognitions for Manuela Nicolini.

Leading the individual honorees was 2016 MAAC Player of the Year Skyler Day. The junior led the MAAC with 4.28 kills and 4.70 points per set, adding 2.45 digs per frame to round out her 11 double-doubles. Her 497 total kills rank fifth in Fairfield single-season history and her 1,324 swings are the most by a Stag in a single-season. In addition to Player of the Year laurels, Day collected First Team All-MAAC honors for the second straight year. Also a MAAC All-Championship Team member and a First Team ECAC All-Star, Day was a three-time MAAC Player of the Week during the campaign.

Day was Fairfield’s first Player of the Year since Lindsey Lee was named the MAAC Offensive Player of the Year in 2006 and the first student-athlete named MAAC Player of the Year after being tabbed as MAAC Preseason Player of the Year since Siena’s Burgandy McCurty in 2009.

Also on the outside, junior co-captain Megan Theiller traded swings with Day as the duo formed one of the most formidable hitting duos in the country. Day and Theiller ranked 29th and 37th in the nation, respectively, in kills per set – the only set of teammates among the top 50 attackers in all of Division I.

A First Team All-MAAC pick, Theiller’s 4.19 kills and 4.65 points per frame were both good for second in the MAAC. She also picked up 2.75 digs per frame en route to a team-best 15 double-doubles. The MAAC leader with four Player of the Week nods, Theiller was a MAAC All-Championship Team and First Team ECAC All-Star selection. Her 490 kills rated sixth all-time in a single season at Fairfield, and her 1,263 attempts slot third in the record books. During the campaign, she became the seventh member of Fairfield’s 1,000 Kills and 1,000 Digs Club. She is just the third player to accomplish the feat in only three seasons of action.

The Biology major also garnered CoSIDA Academic All-District First Team honors for her academic achievements.

The Stags’ third First Team All-MAAC honoree was co-captain Megan O'Sullivan. She compiled 2.33 kills per set while hitting .320 – good for second in the MAAC – from the middle in 2016. O’Sullivan also entered the record books for her work at the net. Her 123 blocks this fall ranked sixth in a single season and made her only the third Stag with multiple 100-block campaigns. O’Sullivan also ranks third at Fairfield with 348 blocks in her career. In addition to back-to-back First Team All-MAAC laurels, she was the Most Valuable Player of the 2016 MAAC Championship.

Rounding out Fairfield’s All-MAAC honors was a Rookie Team pick for Manuela Nicolini. The freshman setter distributed 6.22 assists per set in her rookie campaign while helping to lead the MAAC’s most-potent attack. Nicolini added 55 kills of her own on .387 hitting, while contributing 63 blocks to the defensive effort.

After boasting no seniors on the 2015 MAAC Championship Team, O’Sullivan was the lone senior on the Stags’ 2016 roster. She was one of 30 candidates nationwide for the Senior CLASS Award recognizing the accomplishments of student-athletes on the court, in the classroom and in the community.

“We will all miss Megan and what she has done for this program. Since my arrival here three years ago, I have seen tremendous growth in Megan both on and off the court,” said Kress of his senior co-captain. “As a Nursing major, she made many sacrifices to be at practice and work around clinical and still earned First Team All-MAAC honors in each of the last two years.  She has set the standard of excellence both academically and on the volleyball court and we are all grateful for her hard work, sacrifice and determination.”

While O’Sullivan’s contributions to the program will not be easily replaced, the future is bright for Kress’s Stags heading into 2017 as 10 of Fairfield’s returning players have been members of the starting rotation over the past two seasons. The Stags look not only toward a third consecutive MAAC Championship next fall but aim to take the next step and earn an NCAA postseason win.

“This season was a great example of people working together to accomplish something great. Although we are proud of the 2016 season, our work is far from done. The Michigan State match was a lesson for all of us and what it takes to compete at that level on the national stage,” said Kress. “We are not satisfied with our approach and effort in that match and will work diligently to get back to that round again and focus on a different outcome. To accomplish this, I think we realize that we all must be committed to this goal. We look forward to the challenge; we are grateful for each other, humble in our approach and hungry for more next year.”

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