The Colonials' opening weekend stood in stark contrast to their recent history of early season success.
After a 2011 campaign that saw a 10-0 beginning and a return to the A-10 tournament for the first time since 2008, a 0-3 start didn’t seem to be in the cards for 2012.
But following a 3-1 loss to Pittsburgh Friday, the team concluded play in the Mortar Board Invitational with additional losses to No. 9 Purdue and No. 21 Northern Iowa, both in straight sets.
“This weekend opened some things up for us,” second year head coach Amanda Ault said. “It showed our weaknesses and some things that we really need to key in on and focus on this week in practice and moving forward.”
In Friday’s game against Pittsburgh, the team’s rustiness showed. The third set proved to be the most competitive between the Panthers and Colonials, with each team posting their highest hitting percentages – .419 and .333 respectively – for the match. The Panthers, though, were able to grab the momentum and the set at 25-21. In what became the deciding fourth set, GW stumbled as the team suffered 10 attack errors on its way to a 17-25 defeat.
“Off the bat, we just didn’t feel very comfortable. We didn’t get into a rhythm early,” Ault said. “Our newcomers were nervous, and our returners didn’t step up and make them feel comfortable.”
GW started three freshmen in the match, suiting up Maddy Doyle, Margarethe Skjelbred and redshirt Jessica Lubic. Doyle finished with five kills and a match-high 17 digs, while Skjelbred contributed another two kills.
Lubic had her best game of the tournament in the opener, posting 32 assists and five points for the match. She took over as setter this year for two-year starter Katie Crosby, who finished last season ranked fourth in the conference with 10.19 assists per set. But throwing a new setter into the lineup is difficult for the Colonials, Ault emphasized, and is going to require heavy concentration Lubic and the rest of the team.
“Everything’s being thrown at her at once,” said Ault. “She needs to learn her hitters, and she needs to figure out their strengths and what situations to put them in. It’s just something that’s gonna take a little more time.”
GW once again fell victim to attack errors against Purdue Saturday, 18 in total. And the Boilermakers’ offense couldn’t be slowed down, hitting .688 in the first set, with 11 kills and no errors in route to a 25-12 victory. They ultimately clinched the match in straight sets.
As Ault pointed out, GW was able to put good swings on the ball, but its lack of shots falling in hurt the team’s confidence.
“We didn’t have the ability to shake things off and forget about it,” Ault said. “We would kind of let them grow, and that’s when those mini runs would happen against us, so then the game would just be broken up a little bit more.”
GW had their best chance at salvaging the weekend in their final game against Northern Iowa. Despite losing in straight sets 14-25, 12-25, and 18-25, the Colonials swung their highest percentage of the tournament, .155, and sophomore Kelsey Newman hit a team-high .412 with eight kills. Also showing signs of better things to come was junior Taylor Knox, who finished with seven kills and was named to the All-Tournament team.
Ault isn’t very surprised. After success last year, she purposefully worked to design a tougher schedule for the 2012 season, confident in her team’s ability to learn and grow.
“We understand that these next three weeks before A-10 start are important for us,” Ault said. “Yeah we started off 0-3, but we’re figuring each other out, we’re figuring out what we need to work on and the girls understand that these weeks are gonna be tough and that we have to get after it.”