The Colonials lost two of three matches despite playing at home this weekend, their three-game series leaving them with a record that belies the back-and-forth nature of many of their contests.
Hosting the 26th installment of the GW/NIKE Invitational, GW (3-11) looked to take advantage of the crucial – and needed – home atmosphere. But even with a career match from senior captain Lauren Whyte in Saturday’s showdown with the University of New Hampshire, GW could not pull out a winning record for the weekend, losing to both Princeton and No. 15 BYU in straight sets, 3-0.
“We’ve talked about being steady,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “Right now, I think we’re a very streaky team. We do things well, and then the next couple of points, we don’t take care of things, so we’ve been up and down that way. We need to make sure we become more consistent.”
In Friday’s opening tournament match against Princeton, GW got off to a slow start, dropping the first set 20-25, due mostly to a .043 hitting percentage and 12 attack errors.
The next two sets looked to be true tests of the team’s make-up thus far this season. Battling through 16 tie scores and five lead changes, GW, leading 24-23, had a chance to even the match at 1-1. But two Colonial errors and a kill by the Tigers turned a second set opportunity into a 24-26 defeat.
Princeton would go on to put away the match with a 25-23 third set victory, leaving the Colonials once again on the losing end of a small margin. The loss highlights GW’s season-long inability to close out tight sets, something Ault attributes to a lack of team confidence.
“With where we are now and our record, we’re lacking confidence,” Ault said. “So when it comes down to games like that, and you’re battling for those last two points, I just think we haven’t found our stride yet. It’s something I know is in us, so we just have to continue to find it.”
That confidence appeared to be there for the Colonials in their second tournament match against UNH Saturday. Facing this opponent for the first time, GW was able to storm back from a 23-25 first set loss to win the next three sets, and the match, 25-17, 25-22, and 25-20.
The big story for GW was the outstanding play from senior Lauren Whyte, who had one of her best games as a Colonial, posting a match-high 27 kills – just two short of her career high. This, to go along with six digs, two block assists, and a .328 hitting percentage, led to a match that Whyte called fun and easy.
“We all came together and were like, we need to be 14 strong,” Whyte said. “So I think we really took that to heart, and things just really fell into play that way. The passes were great, and the defense was great, so at that point, it just becomes extremely fun and it almost makes it easy to put balls away.”
Adding to Whyte’s performance was a strong offensive showing from the entire team, including junior Jamie Armstrong who posted 11 kills and four block assists, sophomore Kelsey Newman with 13 kills and seven digs of her own, and redshirt junior Jessica Lubic who paced the offense with 50 assists.
The Colonials ended tournament play by facing their fourth nationally ranked opponent of the year, BYU. The Cougars lived up to their ranking, sweeping the Colonials with set scores of 17-25, 9-25, and 15-25.
GW didn’t get their first lead of the match until a service error by the Cougars gave them a 1-0 lead in the 3rd set. But BYU’s play ultimately led to 22 attack errors and only 25 kills for the Colonials in the match. The lone bright spot for GW was senior libero Candace Silva-Martin, whose 17 digs helped lead to her all-tournament team bid.
“Taking care of that first ball, whether it’s a great dig or that pass to set up our offense, that definitely broke down for us against BYU,” Ault said. “It started to get better, but then other things would break down.”
The end of the tournament marks the midway point of the regular season for GW, as well as the start of conference play. This shift essentially gives the team a new season; something that the players have said will give them a positive outlook.
“We’re ready for things we know and for some familiar faces,” sophomore Landon Garvik said. “I think that there’s some revenge that we’re waiting to dish out, and I think it’s going to be an exciting second half of the season.”