Down 2-1 after three sets Saturday night against Charlotte, volleyball team senior Katie Zulandt noticed a familiar pattern her team had fallen into. After dropping their first set against the 49ers, the Colonials had rallied and won the second set. GW fell again though, this time in the third set, and Zulandt knew exactly what was going on.
“I just think we start off games sometimes a little slow and then we pick it up a little bit as the games go on,” she said. “I think that’s gonna be one of our struggles this season, starting off and jumping on teams right away, not taking games to five and winning in three.”
Zulandt’s diagnosis turned out to be right on the mark. The Colonials didn’t trail Charlotte once after losing the third set, winning 25-15 in the fourth set and 15-6 in the fifth to earn the 3-2 victory in GW’s Atlantic 10 opener.
“We kind of weren’t getting what they were doing right at first, we weren’t blocking as well as we should have. Once we started seeing what they were gonna run, we kind of got into it, got into the flow of the game and were able to, you know, just kill them,” Zulandt said.
It was just the fourth time this season that GW (11-6, 1-0 A-10) has played to five sets and only its second five-set win so far this season. Like Zulandt, head coach Jojit Coronel pointed to his team’s tendency this season to allow teams to hang around early on, only to turn it on late in the match.
“That’s been sort of our M.O., we’re focused and we roll and we score a lot of points, and then we sort of tend to fall asleep and lose focus and the other team, obviously they have a chip on their shoulder and they come out a little bit more energized, then we wake up,” Coronel said.
The Colonials were led by sophomore Lauren Whyte, who had 17 kills. Zulandt was the only other GW player to record double-digit kills, with 11. Sophomore Candace Silva-Martin led GW on defense with 15 digs.
In addition to being GW’s first A-10 victory, it was also just the second home game the team has played this season. As a result of the final stages of renovations to the Smith Center, the Colonials played 15 of their first 16 games on the road this season. Zulandt said after so many games away from Foggy Bottom, it was especially sweet to get a win at home.
“It’s amazing to play at home. We have a lot of fans that come in to our games, and the gym looks great, everything looks great, it’s just a great feeling to play at home and win at home,” she said. “We’ve been on the road too much, it takes a toll on you after a while and it’s nice to play at home.”
While playing on the road has made it tough on his team, Coronel said being road-tested will pay dividends for his team now that A-10 play has started. Whereas in the past the Colonials would have non-conference games interspersed among A-10 match-ups, Coronel said that by front-loading his team’s schedule, players should be able to focus more during conference games.
“It’s great to be home,” he said. “Being on the road is tough, and I scheduled it that way because I wanted most of our non-conference matches in the preseason so we could focus just on conference once the season starts. In years past, we’d play Georgetown, UMBC or Howard in the middle of the season and we’re like, ‘Why did we schedule this?'”
The Colonials will get a chance to stay at home for a while, with three more matches at home before they’ll be forced to hit the road again. Up next for GW is the team’s final non-conference contest of the season against Virginia Commonwealth University. That game is scheduled for this Tuesday at 7 p.m.