GW’s victory over Saint Louis Saturday was the sort of hard-fought win that could have the power to change the tone of a season.
After a straight set loss Friday at the hands of A-10 newcomer Butler, the Colonials were threatened with a winless weekend. But the team was determined to have the last say. Down two sets in Saturday’s match against Saint Louis, GW came storming back to win the next three and take the match 3-2.
“I just couldn’t be more proud of this team,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “It shows a lot about them, and today they really showed themselves that we can do this. Hopefully they gained some confidence after tonight.”
In Friday’s matchup against Butler, the Colonials were never able to grab the momentum. They struggled, losing the first set 25-16 largely due to nine attack errors and a subpar .026 attack percentage. The second set was likely GW’s best chance to get back in the match, but after 12 ties and five lead changes, a 3-1 Butler run allowed the Bulldogs to sneak out a 25-22 win.
Slow starts have plagued GW all season, which Ault attributes to poor ball handling and a lack of aggressiveness.
“We just couldn’t ever get anything going,” Ault said. “We talk a lot about the serve-and-pass game, and that’s where our matches are either won or loss. But right from the beginning, we weren’t going aggressive at the line or taking care of that first contact.”
The Colonials fought hard in the third set to make up for their early mistakes, using a 13-7 run to tie the match late at 23-23. The deficit proved too large though, as Butler was able to win three of the last four points and clinch the set 26-24. Junior Jamie Armstrong and senior Lauren Whyte both had double-digit kills – 10 and 11 respectively – while freshman Maddy Doyle kept the defense strong with a career-high 20 digs.
“We know with the additions of VCU and Butler that there are two very good teams being added to the A-10, so we were expecting a good match,” Ault said. “They’re just a really good team who did a lot of things well against us.”
Early on, Saturday’s match against Saint Louis looked eerily similar to the Butler loss the day before. GW started slow, hitting -.186 in the first set and -.024 in the second set, practically handing the Billikens their 25-12 and 25-15 set wins. In the third set though, something changed for GW. The Colonials opened up the frame with a 9-3 lead and extended that to 19-11 advantage. They held off a late scare from Saint Louis and secure the set 26-24.
“It was like it was a different team,” Ault said. “They started to execute the game plan, they started to take care of the ball more and they started to put each other in better situations. That momentum and that energy makes you feed off of each other instead of bringing you down like in the first two sets.”
GW was able to take the fourth set 25-20 and force a deciding fifth set. For a moment, it appeared that the Colonials’ comeback would be all for naught as the Billikens grabbed an early 7-3 lead in the fifth. But once again, GW stole the momentum, using a 6-1 run to take a 9-8 lead, before relying on two consecutive kills from sophomore Landon Garvik to finish off the set 15-12.
“Whenever you fight back from being down 0-2, it speaks a lot about your team,” Ault said. “Especially the way that we were down, because really, we just got stomped in the first couple of games. So to really change their attitude, change their mind-set, change their aggressiveness overall as a team was huge.”
The comeback would not have been possible if not for the performances of Whyte, sophomore Kelsey Newman and redshirt freshman Jessica Lubic. Whyte led all players with 18 kills, while Newman put away 14 kills of her own and posted career-highs of 18 digs and six blocks for a match-high 19.5 points. Lubic paced the team throughout the entire match, putting up 39 assists and 15 digs.
“They [Whyte and Newman] both stepped up, especially in game three, and started attacking the way we needed them to,” Ault said. “They were hitting their shots, going up strong and giving us energy to feed off of.”
The grinding win brings the Colonials’ A-10 record to an even .500. The team will play its next three conference matches at home, hopefully giving the Colonials the opportunity to climb the ladder in the A-10 standings.