(FREDERICTON, NB) The UNB Varsity Reds came tantalizingly close to ending a long losing streak.
The VReds dropped a 3-2 decision to the Saint Mary's Huskies… 24-26, 25-20, 25-17, 23-25 and 13-15.
"It's a little upsetting," said Varsity Reds rookie Olivia Witteveen, of the team's ninth consecutive loss.
As disappointed as she was, Witteveen was quick to acknowledge the positives.
"We've definitely made strides over the past couple of weeks and it's going to start to come together, right in time for the playoffs."
The young Varsity Reds pushed the Huskies in the first set, forcing ties at 11, 14, 15, 16, 17, 21, 23 and 24, before SMU won it 26-24.
In the break, the Varsity Reds refocused… and it showed.
Behind some strong serving by Megan Kuciak, another rookie, UNB built a 4-1 lead.
Richard then helped run it to 20-12.
In the end a SMU service error gave UNB a 25-20 second set victory.
The Varsity Reds took control of the third set very early… establishing a 7-0 lead with relative ease. Witteveen served all seven points.
Coach Jillian Portelli has had to rely on Witteveen and Kuciak to fill big holes in her line-up.
"It's stressful for anyone, being in that position, let alone being in your first year, but it's a learning process."
The Huskies used a time out, hoping to turn things around, but that didn't happen and UNB ran away with the third set, scoring a 25-15 win for a 2-1 lead.
"We were overwhelmed in that third set," said Huskies coach Darren Russell. "We had to slow things down mentally and focus on the little things we had to do, and a couple of individuals stepped up and we ended up getting it done."
Saint Mary's won the fourth set 25-23 before taking the fifth 15-13, for the 3-2 win.
"UNB is very consistent, they play strong defence, they're a big, blocking team, there's no matches in the AUS that are for granted matches and we got lucky on this one," said Russell.
Despite the close loss, Witteveen feels the Varsity Reds are growing and will be ready for the playoffs.
"I have faith in the process that we're being put through."
The 3-and-13 Varsity Reds wrap up the regular season, on home court, Friday night.
UNB hosts Moncton. First serve is scheduled for 7:00PM, at the Richard J. Currie Center.