By Jake Seiner
In the first postseason match of her college volleyball career at Stonehill College, Meaghan Lee was disheartened with her play.
Skyhawks coach Lauren Amundson, however, was not overly concerned with her freshman middle blocker from Hanover. All season, she had seen the former Notre Dame of Hingham standout battle through her struggles. And by game's end, Amundson had faith that Lee would make her mark.
And she was right.
The 6-foot Lee (inset) delivered 11 kills and seven blocks, the majority coming in the fourth and deciding set as Stonehill surged past visiting Southern Connecticut for a 22-25, 25-22, 25-22, 25-14 win in the Northeast-10 quarterfinals at Merkert Gymnasium Tuesday night.
"She was frustrated at different points of the night,'' Amundson said. "We talk about pushing through that and being a good teammate, and she ended up having a solid performance.''
Grinding through struggles has been a bit of a theme for Lee this fall, who arrived on campus as one of the program's more unrefined recruits.
"Last spring, I saw a lot of potential in her, but also a lot of room for improvement,'' said Amundson, who first met Lee in 2007, coaching her at a camp at Bentley.
"She had the natural athleticism, the ability, and the work ethic I look for.''
She was also lacking fundamentally, and the transition from high school to college was made all the more difficult by those limitations.
"High school volleyball is much slower,'' Lee said. "The game here is so fast-paced. The offenses are quicker, so you have to push harder.''
Lee pushed harder, perhaps harder than her body was ready to be pushed. On the last day of preseason workouts, she felt sharp pain in her shins, and was diagnosed with tendinitis and shin splints.
She watched the team's first eight games from the sideline, wearing a boot. Upon her return, her reps were limited.
"Within three or four weeks of the start of the season, I was playing again,'' Lee said. "But I wasn't fully healthy. I couldn't play to my best ability.
"It definitely hurt a lot to move and transition off the net and transition to block. Now that I'm better, it doesn't hurt as much, so I can move quicker.''
The grind back to 100 percent was a slow one. Over the last couple of weeks, the pain has subsided, and her play has flourished.
Lee had a pair of breakout performances two weeks ago against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and Southern Connecticut. She racked up 34 kills over nine sets, earning Rookie of the Week honors in the Norheast-10.
"It was really nice to see her turn it on offensively,'' Amundson said. "She's such a hard worker, it's nice to see this confidence in her.''
It's not just about health, either. Lee is building confidence, and, just as important, a repertoire with her teammates.
"Volleyball is so position-specific, and so much of her success is dependent on her connection'' with freshman setter Emily Iverson, the NE-10's Rookie of the Year, Amundson said. "Her being a freshman, hitting sets off someone she hasn't worked with, that's tough.
"With limited reps, it's taken time to develop that connection, but they're definitely working in the right direction.''
The Skyhawks (27-5), who tied the program's single-season record for wins Tuesday, hosted Adelphi in a NE-10 semifinal Friday night.