Baldwin (6-3 overall) extended its winning streak to three straight matches, taking nine straight games in Conference AA-I battles with Farmingdale (27-25, 25-20, 25-14), Hicksville (25-17, 25-8, 25-13) and Syosset (25-9, 25-15, 25-21).
The most recent sweep, against the Dalers last Friday, was led by senior middle hitter Loren McKenzie’s 17 kills and 10 blocks, and 30 assists from junior setter Keira Knauer. “In the first game [against the Dalers] we started strong, slipped a little but still won in three games,” coach Natalie Hamilton said. “We want to finish stronger than we started heading into the postseason.”
McKenzie, on her way to play volleyball at the Division I level in college, has been an anchor of both the Lady Bruins’ offense and defense at the net. Standing 6-foot-2, she’s the tallest player in the conference and capable of dominating for extended stretches. She provides an excellent target for Knauer, like McKenzie and junior outside hitter Bridgette Walsh, a team captain. Walsh, already physically aggressive, has become a vocal player at the net. Junior libero Erica Ackerman had 20 digs and four aces last Friday, just four days after piling up 16 digs, four kills and four aces in the sweep of the Lady Comets.
“We have 10 returning players and I think that’s a huge advantage,” Hamilton said of her team’s 6-2 run just past the halfway point of its conference schedule. “We have all but two starters back and they jelled very quickly.”
On top of the strong play in conference, Baldwin has also performed well in tournament play, capturing the title in its own tournament in September for the first time in six years and advancing to the semifinals at Wantagh’s tournament where it lost to St. Anthony’s. “When it comes down to it the girls can play with any of the best teams,” Hamilton said.
The Lady Bruins only two Conference AA-I losses came to unbeaten Massapequa on Oct. 1 (16-25, 25-16, 25-19, 25-17), and a Port Washington team that owns an identical 6-2 mark. They do have rematches against both teams down the stretch and played well in the defeats. Hamilton came away particularly impressed with her team’s performance against Massapequa, a perennial powerhouse in Nassau County. “The scores were not blowouts and we were not playing nervous,” she said. “We lost but feel confident for the next time we see them.”
One of the newcomers to the lineup, sophomore Allie Ahearne has taken the floor wherever the team needs her, playing libero, outside hitter and right hitter. She had 15 digs and seven kills in the win over the Lady Braves. Senior Jessica Markowitz, an athletic defensive specialist, has also contributed on the offensive side with strong passing and her serves. Amber Dunbar, a junior, has been outstanding at the service line and gives Baldwin even more height at the net alongside McKenzie, while senior Zhane Warthen brings a powerful swing at outside hitter. Senior Jessica Pulis brings athleticism and good blocking skills to the floor at middle hitter, while junior Kaleena Vizcarrondois part of the rotation on the back row.