As sophomore Jamie Armstrong headed to serve late in the third set, Georgetown needed only one point to take a 2-1 lead in overall sets.
Armstrong’s serve jump-started a Colonials rally, and seven points later, the game was tied. But following a service error and a Georgetown ace, the Colonials’ comeback ended, and the volleyball team had their backs against the wall. Their undefeated season on the line, the Colonials needed to win the last two sets to take the Tuesday match.
GW rallied, taking the last two sets and clinching the D.C. Challenge and the subsequent sweep over District teams. With the win, the Colonials earned their 10th straight, tying the best start to a season since 2003.
As the team celebrated on the court immediately after clinching the fifth set, jumping into each others’ arms, the Smith Center erupted. It had been loud all game, filled with fans from both teams as the neighborhood rivals squared off. That excited atmosphere, head coach Amanda Ault said, was key.
“Our crowd definitely helps our team,” Ault said. “We know that that’s a big part of being at home, and we want to continue to grow and build our student section, our fan support and just the Smith Center in general to have that kind of atmosphere at GW volleyball games.”
Redshirt junior Katie Crosby had 12 assists in the crucial fourth set, finding outside hitters Armstrong, junior Lauren Whyte and senior Mackenzie Knox on the other end of many of those passes.
The Colonials hit .355 against just two errors on the set, winning the set and tying the match on a booming kill from Whyte, forcing a decisive fifth set. There, GW continued its dominance, swinging .429 to clinch the victory.
The final two sets were a show of strength that didn’t reflect the tight nature of opening play. The first set alone had 13 ties and five lead changes, and GW limited the Hoyas to .127 hitting, but added a season-low .187 offensive effort of its own.
The offensive struggle, Armstrong said, was due to deft blocking and defense from Georgetown, a challenge she credits the Colonials sideline staff for coaching their players beyond.
“I thought they did a very good job blocking, that was something we had to adjust to because that’s what was hurting us,” Armstrong said. “We had great coaches who figured out a game plan to work around that.”
GW’s game plan also benefited from strong play across its roster, exemplifying the depth that Ault has hailed as a strength of her team since the beginning of its season. Whyte led all players with 15 kills, followed closely by freshman Kelsey Newman, who added 14. Armstrong finished the match with eight kills and 11 points, and Knox posted seven kills of her own. Crosby, who entered the match ranked first in the Atlantic 10 and seventh in Division I in assists, added 40 against the Hoyas. Junior Candace Silva-Martin supported her teammates’ offensive efforts with impressive defensive play, earning a match-high 16 digs, three assists, two aces and one kill.
“[Silva-Martin] just had an all out effort defensively tracking balls,” Ault said. “In game five she was huge for us because she was always in the right place, taking care of the ball, and putting us in system.”
Next, GW travels to the San Diego Invitational, opening Sept. 16 against Indiana at 8 p.m. and then facing No. 17 San Diego and UC-Santa Barbara Sept. 17. The Colonials look to continue their undefeated streak as they head to California, a record of success Armstrong attributes to the team’s chemistry and ability to play as a cohesive unit.
“Everything is just coming together, and we couldn’t be more excited,” Armstrong said. “It’s a great feeling. I think we’re all so proud of each other, we couldn’t have gotten here without all 15 members of the team.”
This article appeared in the September 15, 2011 issue of the Hatchet.