Bobcats come together, take down Iona in home opener

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Bobcats come together, take down Iona in home opener

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Photo Courtesy: Quinnipiac Athletics

Katie O'Keefe and Jacob Resnick

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By: Jacob Resnick

–HAMDEN, Conn.– The third set had only just begun when the Quinnipiac women’s volleyball team looked up at the scoreboard and found itself down 14-3 to Iona. After cruising to a 2-0 lead through two sets, things were unraveling quickly for the Bobcats.

First-year head coach Kyle Robinson — in his first game at Burt Kahn Court after over a month on the road — calmly motioned for a timeout. Then, instead of joining the team in a brief huddle, he pulled freshman setter Aryanah Diaz to the side, took a few deep breaths, and sent her back out to the floor.

Quinnipiac couldn’t surmount that third-set deficit, but it ended up having little consequence. The Bobcats, with their heads screwed back into place, came out roaring in the fourth set to take care of the Iona Gaels, 3-1, on Saturday.

It was the Bobcats’ first in-conference win in 2019, and only the third time in 21 tries that they’ve come out on top against the Gaels, the defending MAAC regular season and tournament champions.

That type of culture — one outlined by accountability and development — has been the hallmark of Robinson’s tenure at Quinnipiac thus far. Hired in January, he has taken the team through over eight months of mental training and skill-building, which prepared them for a few bumps in the road on Saturday.

“We had a little adversity in that third set,” Robinson said. “For me as a coach, it’s always nice to see us fight through adversity and become better from it.”

Diaz, a native of Miami, has been at the center of it all, stepping into the primary setter role in her first season despite the majority of her prior experience coming on the outside. She looks like a freshman at times, sure, but, with the kind of relationship that she has developed with Robinson since stepping on campus, it is no surprise how well she has buoyed the Bobcats’ attack.

“Our relationship is honestly great,” Diaz said after racking up 22 assists on Saturday. “He does a great job of pushing me on the court and telling me how I can better myself in every way possible. I got this opportunity because of him and it’s been great so far.”

“It’s not typical that a freshman comes in and gets thrown right into the ‘quarterback’ role because she has to lead the team,” Robinson said. “You see a lot of the mistakes we may have are just from learning how to lead, learning how to be the one who everyone looks to for guidance.”

Still, Robinson has continued to place his trust in the versatile setter. He has also granted an expanded role to second-year outside hitter Maggie Baker, who paced Quinnipiac with 15 kills on Saturday and now leads the team with 38 successful attacks through four conference games.

“It’s a great confidence booster because if they’re putting me out there, there’s a reason. Just having everyone believe in me does so much,” Baker said. Through 13 games, the Huntington Beach, California, native has attempted 9.1 attacks per set, a strong increase from 5.7 in all of 2018.

It’s refreshing to see Robinson and the Bobcats go all-in on the youth movement, particularly in a season in which the conference is likely to be wide open. That isn’t to say that the steady veterans, like Lauren Miller, Alejandra Rodriguez, and Kaleigh Oates, haven’t been crucial to the team’s five wins to date, but sustained success can only come from preparing the underclassmen for what’s to come in their college careers.

“It’s so exciting to think about,” Baker said. “We have such a great team chemistry going on, and knowing I’m surrounded by really great players just helps boost that confidence.”