After the first two sets of the A-10 conference tournament quarterfinal match against No. 6 seed Duquesne, the Colonials had control.
The team was focused. GW was up 2-0 in the game, and appeared to be headed to the semifinals of the tournament to take on No. 1 seed Dayton. But then it slipped away, the Dukes posting victories in the next three sets to take the match, sending the disappointed Colonials home early – their season was over.
Despite the unsatisfying end to the season, head coach Amanda Ault wanted her team to walk away from the court with their heads held high. Closing her first season with the program, Ault doesn’t see any failure in her team’s record – just a sense of pride. After a 2010 season that saw GW fail to qualify for postseason play, earning a berth in the conference tournament is an accomplishment that Ault believes deserves recognition.
“I’m really proud of the team for having the season they did. Everyone finishes their season with a loss, except for one team. It’s tough, but it’s reality,” Ault said. “From where we started to where we ended should give the team a tremendous sense of pride.”
The loss brought GW’s season record to 20-10, 8-7 in A-10 play and an all-time A-10 tournament record to 9-22. Statistically, the match was one of the Colonials’ strongest games of the season. Four players posted double-digit kills: sophomore Rachael Goss with 15, senior MacKenzie Knox with a career-high 16, sophomore Jamie Armstrong with 10 and junior Lauren Whyte with 17, while redshirt junior Katie Crosby set the tone with 50 assists.
The impressive statistics speak to a program that continually pushed itself to better its play, Ault said. She wants the team to leave the season motivated, not discouraged. After seeing an example of how well they can perform, Ault said the Colonials should use the end of the 2011 season to drive them to prepare for 2012.
“What they’ve accomplished this year, they moved the program in the right direction,” Ault said. “Getting the fourth seed, there’s now something that the program has to go after each year. Hopefully now they feel the sense of urgency to keep working and get back into the gym.”
The Colonials started the first set of the game with the urgency Ault wanted to see, out-hitting the Dukes .225-.189 on their way to a 25-23 win. The second set went just as smoothly for GW. The team continued to spread the ball, using multiple attackers to win the tight set 25-21 and putting Duquesne up against an early wall.
The Colonials came back out to the third set with a chance to win the game, hoping to continue their focus and the high level of play that put them in control of the match. But the team became a little too comfortable with its lead, taking a step back in intensity and allowing the Dukes to become the aggressors. Though GW was able to fight off three set points in the third set, the team eventually fell short on the defensive side of the ball, losing the set 26-28. The team began to commit costly errors and was unable to capitalize on its own play.
“We became one-dimensional,” Ault said. “And when you do that, it makes things much easier for the defense to take options away from your hitters.”
The Dukes’ play was fresh in GW’s mind after a Nov. 5 loss, Ault sad. The team thought it had a good feel for its opponents, and Ault spent time before the tournament going over film and the specifics of each Dukes player’s game. Ault wanted that preparation to refocus her team after dropping a set. But despite their preparations, the Colonials couldn’t seem to get back on track. They hit just .020 in the fourth set, dropping it to the Dukes 25-21 and creating a tie game. The loss forced a decisive fifth set, but GW wasn’t panicking yet. After the team compiled a 6-1 record in five-set matches this year, it had proven its strength in crucial play.
The high stakes of the match made the fifth set GW’s most challenging of the season. Adding to the pressure was a Duquesne squad just as eager for victory, which showed as it quickly jumped out to an 11-4 lead. The Colonials fought back with a run of their own, cutting the lead to three. In the end, the momentum generated by the Dukes was too much, and they were able to eliminate GW from the tournament with a 15-11 win. Ault said she could see her team “fight to get something going” during the final set – a loss of drive which coupled with the team’s errors to contribute to the loss.
“We kept trying to dig our way out of the hole we had dug ourselves, and that was the difference,” Ault said. “Usually we’re right there trying to push ahead, but tonight was the exact opposite. We were continually scrapping for every point.”