The Colonials traveled to California on an undefeated high, opening their season with 10 straight wins. It was the program’s best start to a season since 2003, and after an emotional, hard-fought victory over Georgetown, GW left Foggy Bottom for the San Diego Invitational feeling confident.
But then the Colonials opened up play in the tournament by dropping their first match of the 2011 season to Indiana, despite rallying to force a fifth set. The next day, GW was swept in its two matches against San Diego and UC Santa Barbara. By the time the tournament was over, the Colonials (10-3) had been handed three straight defeats. Reflecting on the disparity between the team’s record before the tournament and its Invitational play, head coach Amanda Ault was at a loss when thinking about how her players could shake off the weekend’s defeats
“We’re trying to figure that out right now. We knew this was going to be a tough tournament for us with great competition,” Ault said. “Now we need to get focused for conference play. Learn from what happened this weekend, take that and move forward.”
GW opened play Friday against Indiana, starting the match with a first set that was a continuation of its dominant play to open the season. The Colonials hit .429 with just one error in 28 attempts, winning the first set 25-14. But Indiana won the next two sets, holding GW to .024 and .056 hitting percentages. The Colonials rebounded in the fourth set, hitting .379 and holding the Hoosiers to a .032 attack percentage to force a fifth set. But Indiana battled back from an early GW lead in the fifth set, using a scoring run to clinch its 3-2 overall victory. It was the first time this season the Colonials tasted defeat and Ault said the loss was due to a stronger opponent, not GW overestimating its own abilities.
“I don’t think we went in overconfident at all,” Ault said. “We had a huge one on Friday night with Indiana and it was grind-out where we just fell short. There were times when we believed and there were times when we were almost second guessing ourselves.”
In their first match of Saturday, the Colonials were handed their second defeat, falling to nationally ranked No. 17 San Diego in straight sets. Juniors Lauren Whyte and Katie Crosby continued to lead GW’s offense, tallying six kills and 17 assists, respectively, but their efforts weren’t enough to boost a stalled Colonials front. The team posted a .000 hitting percentage over the match, and were met with a dominant .375 hitting percentage from the Toreros.
“It’s actually probably a little of both. It’s us making the errors and giving them points instead of them making great plays and taking points from us,” Ault said. “We need to make sure we’re taking care of the passing or really going up and taking care of the block.”
GW’s last match of the weekend was against UC Santa Barbara, and the Colonials were swept for the second game in a row. Freshman Kelsey Newman and Whyte paced the offense, adding 10 and nine kills, but GW was again held from being dominant offensively, hitting just .036 in the first set and stalled by a .343 UC Santa Barbara hitting percentage in the second.
The Gauchos used an early scoring run in the third set to clinch their victory, handing GW a 3-0 defeat. Allowing runs, Ault said, is a crucial weakness of her program, and an aspect of play she intends to focus and improve upon.
“We were talking about not giving up as many runs. We go out and have the aggressiveness, intensity and then almost get complacent and let the team have a big run back and let them even the score or put us in a hole,” Ault said. “We need to make more of an effort with that.”
The Colonials return to Foggy Bottom to open up A-10 play at Duquesne Sept. 23. Ault thinks that the weekend’s letdown came at a good time for the team, reminding the players to continually work their hardest as they head into conference play. GW’s outlook, she said, remains strong, and she’ll be looking for her upperclassmen to lead the team in conference play.
“I think we need to refocus and take care of some things that we need to change and work hard to make different, but I think that they’re focused in on making a statement,” Ault said. “I think the leaders are going to play a big role, stepping up and making sure that everyone on the team knows this isn’t acceptable and that we need to play better.”