With half of the women’s volleyball team having played in only three total collegiate games after this opening weekend, the Colonials are compensating for their minimal on-court experience with extra chemistry.
Despite a losing record (1-2) in their host tournament, the GW Invitational, the team has remained optimistic and kept confidence high because of a new team dynamic that hasn’t necessarily existed among the 14-woman roster in past years.
“I think that it was a phenomenal start for us. I know the numbers might not reflect that, but we’re at such a good starting point to learn from our losses and tweak the little things that we need to,” said junior outside hitter Kelsey Newman, who led the Colonials on the attacking front this weekend.
The lingering question leading into the weekend was how this young Colonials club, with seven newcomers, would gel together on the court. The majority of the freshman class saw playing time over the course of the tournament, many of whom impressed head coach Amanda Ault in the process.
GW was the most vocal team on the Smith Center floor this weekend, a quality that seemed to get the Colonials out of tough situations over the course of the tournament. This included overcoming a second-set, five-point deficit against UMBC, which eventually led to the Colonials’ first victory of the season.
On-court communication during a volleyball match can be as simple as picking up your teammates after a play, or as complicated as identifying an opposing hitter’s potential route and vocalizing where an opposing setter might set the ball. Those are crucial moments of a match that, without communication, can lead to a loss.
It’s a quality that Ault said will help shape the team as the season rolls on and players gain experience.
“We’ve talked about that – having the group of returners and the group of newcomers – and just no matter what the combination is, communication is so important,” Ault said. “It’s something that we talk about all of the time, but we really make sure that it’s part of who we are.”
Sophomore libero Maddy Doyle drove much of the Colonials’ on-court communication. And it was clear from the opening match that Doyle would be the team’s vocal leader.
Doyle, who had a career-high 23 digs during Saturday’s loss to Ole Miss, was constantly directing her teammates and served as the team’s spark plug.
“I think in that position, it is great to be a vocal leader because you get the perspective of seeing everything,” Ault said. “She can help her hitters see what’s open, she can take more of the court and provide more stability that way.”
GW’s most promising storyline of the opening weekend was junior transfer Gabrial Rushton’s performance.
After learning that senior middle blocker Jamie Armstrong would have to sit after suffering an injury in Friday’s match against Maryland, Rushton was thrown into the starting lineup after not having played a single rotation the previous day.
The 5-foot-10-inch middle blocker was solid, progressively improving as she settled into the rotation. After only tallying a single kill in her debut against UMBC, Rushton responded with four kills and a higher attack percentage against Ole Miss.
“[Rushton’s] been doing a great job for us in practice to this point, so we felt confident putting her in there and that she would take care of things, and she did,” Ault said. “I think that we need to find her more and be able to get her the ball more offensively, because she can be a weapon for us this season.”
Two other bright spots came from the play of freshman setter Emily Clemens and freshman middle blocker Chidima “Chi Chi” Osuchukwu. Both freshmen showed a growing presence on the floor as the weekend progressed – Osuchukwu at the net and Clemens on the defensive end.
Osuchukwu’s best match of the weekend came on Saturday morning against UMBC. Osuchukwu tallied eight kills, a solo block and seven clean serves. Clemens had her best performance during the Colonials’ final game against Ole Miss, in which she totaled one kill, four digs and 15 receptions without a single reception error.
“You can tell [Osuchukwu] got more comfortable as the weekend went on,” Ault said. “I would say she’s demanding the ball more and I think from a setter’s perspective, that’s exactly what you want to see.”
While the team showed many signs of promise, signs of inexperience were just as apparent, mainly in the form of unforced errors.
In a final four-set match of the weekend against Ole Miss, 13 service errors played a big part in the Colonials’ eventual loss. Crucial mistakes down the stretch contributed to GW’s inability to close Saturday evening’s match. Ault said the lack of on-court experience simply got the best of her team.
“Game four we missed [six] serves, and if you couple that with the blocking-in-the-nets calls, that’s a lot of unforced errors. We’re kind of giving them those points right there. We beat ourselves [against Ole Miss],” Ault said.
For Ault, the solution is simple: more repetition will equate to greater chemistry and on-court results.
“There were times where I said, ‘That’s a young mistake.’ But with more reps and more time, those kinds of things will iron itself out,” Ault said. “We’re young, we’re inexperienced and the only way to get through this is by getting more matches under our belt.”