It may not be evident in the won-loss record or in the standings but the College of Staten Island women’s volleyball team has made tremendous strides this season, and the team is hoping to put a punctuation mark with an inspired performance in this year’s CUNYAC Championship run.  The quest for a title begins tonight, as the No. 6 seeded Dolphins travel to the Bronx to take on No. 3 Lehman College in quarterfinal action at 7pm. 

Optimism should be high for the Dolphins, who erased a 12-game losing streak by winning two of their final three contests, including a gritty four-set win over York College to catapult them up to No. 6 in the standings with a 3-5 CUNYAC mark.  By virtue of the win, CSI will head to Lehman (5-3), which took a 3-1 win over the Dolphins in a match played at Baruch College very early in the season.  A lot has happened since that match, and the Dolphins feel they come in more confident and stronger, as the roster with 10 new faces in 2011 has gelled under first-year coach Atef Dosse.

The Dolphins have leaped in nearly every offensive and defensive category in 2011, despite donning the exact same record from a year ago (4-17).  Among the differences?  CSI has spread out 606 kills this season, almost double their output of 319 a year ago, paced by Ma Soccoro-Valleja’s 154, despite having missed the last six games.  Calleja is expected to be in the lineup against Lehman.  Vasiliki Stergioula is enjoying a tremendous sophomore effort, scattering 136 kills, dwarfing her total of 27 last year.  The Dolphins are also doing it behind the line, totaling 256 service aces, good for 10th in the nation, and a tremendous improvement over last year’s mark of 98.  Defensively, the Dolphins also boast more digs (1,209-771) and assists (497-234) than a year ago.

Freshman Jennifer Samuel has led the charge as the team’s primary setter with 233 tallies, while the Dolphins have gotten steady production from senior Danielle Ponsiglione (81 kills, 73 assists, 98 digs) and sophomore Gabriele Bradshaw (88 assists).  Defensively, libero Jean Marie Lewandowski is among the conference’s elite with 289 digs, good for a team best 4.58 per game.  Adding depth has been the steady play of new faces Pola Poskrobko (93 kills, 42 aces), Brittany Olenick (33 kills, 28 digs) and Monica Concepcion (52 kills).

To win a title or at least contend, CSI will have to buck the odds by erasing a 0-8 record on the road this season.  CSI hasn’t won a road match since October 26, 2010 against York College. 

To stop Lehman, CSI will have to find a way to neutralize impact player Gerri Ann Martin, who has torched conference competition to the tune of 228 kills, or a CUNYAC-best 3.54 per game.  The home Lightning also placed third overall in the conference in both kills and hitting percentage.

The winner of tonight’s quarterfinal will play the winner of No. 2 Baruch College vs. No. 7 York College.  In other quarterfinal play, No. 1 Hunter College takes on No. 8 John Jay College, while No. 4 Brooklyn College will battle No. 5 City College of New York.  All games will be played at 7pm at the higher seeded team.  Both the CUNYAC Semifinals and Championship will be played at City College of New York on Thursday, November 3, beginning at 4pm.