The Colonials took the court this weekend facing down their last two home matches of the season with an A-10 championship slot on the line.
Hosting two teams that defeated them earlier in the season, GW (19-8) evened the score, winning two thrilling five-set matches against Saint Louis and Duquesne, sealing an A-10 bid and garnering some crucial momentum heading into the final games of the season.
“We talked last weekend about that every match from this point on is very important to us, and that we want to take control of our future,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “So that’s what it’s been all about.”
The first test for the Colonials came Friday night in a match against Saint Louis, a team that entered the Smith Center two spots above GW in the conference standings.
It was a battle from the start. The first set was neck-and-neck, with 16 tied scores and seven lead changes, but the Colonials, through high energy play, held on with a block from sophomore Jamie Armstrong that made way for a set-ending kill from junior Lauren Whyte.
The Colonials were not as sharp in the second set, committing 12 errors. GW hit only -.026, and St. Louis took the set 25-20. In the third set though, GW came back strong, with Whyte’s five kills and redshirt junior Katie Crosby’s two kills and 13 assists giving GW all it needed to take the set easily, at 25-18.
GW lost momentum again though as they entered the fourth set, quickly going down 3-0 and never regaining the lead. The Billikens took the set 25-18 but the Colonials came back in the fifth set ready for a fight.
With a huge kill from senior MacKenzie Knox to start the fifth, GW battled hard and eventually took the lead at 7-6. Aided by three blocks on the defensive side, the Colonials took the fifth set 15-9.
“It was a big win for us,” Ault said. “Our goal all season has been to be in Dayton in two weeks and we can take care of that by keep being consistent and keep winning ball games.”
GW looked to take care of business Saturday night as well, hosting Duquesne, a team that beat the Colonials three sets to one in September.
In what was Knox’s last home game of her career, the Colonials yet again found motivation to walk away with a victory. And much like the night before, GW provided fans in the Smith Center with a thriller.
The Colonials faced some struggles early on in the first set, allowing holes to form in their defense and committing six errors on the offensive side. The Dukes took advantage from the start and never gave up the lead, winning the set 25-18. But GW returned strong in the second set, led by sophomore Rachael Goss and her eight kills. Junior Candace Silva-Martin held down the defense with five timely digs, allowing the Colonials to take a 25-16 set win.
During the third set though, GW’s focus wavered amid back-and-forth play until Duquesne jumped ahead with a 12-9 lead and held onto win the set and earn a 2-1 set lead. Down one set and on the verge of ceding the match to the Billikens, the Colonials jogged on the court for the fourth set and faced down one of their most difficult stretches of play this season. GW fought through 12 tied scores and five lead changes in the final minutes of the set but finally took the set 31-29 on a service ace from Goss.
Coming into Saturday night, the Colonials had never lost a fifth set at home, and the trend continued against Duquesne. Solid defensive play proved to be the deciding factor yet again for GW, as they only allowed nine points and took the set 15-9, winning an emotion-packed thriller and clinching a spot in the A-10 tournament.
Following the game, the team honored Knox as she reflected on her four years as a member of the team.
“I’ve seen a lot of changes in this team. We’ve definitely gotten a very good direction and we’ve definitely gotten better every year. I just can’t wait to see what we can do in the future,” Knox said.
Though it was GW’s last home game, the season is far from over. The Colonials clinched a tournament berth and have two regular season games remaining.
For now, Ault is confident in where her team stands.
“I think that we’re at a good place right now. You always want to be playing your best volleyball in November. I think that we’re steadying some things out, getting consistent, and the team is gaining confidence. I’m excited about the next couple of weeks,” Ault said.