For weeks, women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Ault has theorized that her team’s deep roster would make up for its lack of a consistent starting lineup.
But with recent injuries to some of the team’s key veterans, that strategy has come up short during the Colonials’ lackluster 4-6 start.
“We haven’t really found our lineup yet and we’re kind of still working through that,” Ault said.
When the women’s volleyball team played its first match on Aug. 30, Ault’s starting seven consisted of Jordan Timmer at setter, Kelsey Newman, Rachael Goss and Maggie Skjelbred as outside hitters, Chidima Osuchukwu and Jamie Armstrong as middle blockers and Maddy Doyle at the libero position.
The Colonials would lose the match in three sets to Maryland.
Fast-forward to Sept. 13, seven games into the season. Three of Ault’s opening day starters turned over, with Emily Clemens as her setter, Loren Williams as outside hitter, and Gabrial Rushton as middle blocker.
The Colonials would lose that match to North Carolina in three straight sets, as well.
Without a dependable seven-player rotation, the Colonials haven’t shown the kind of consistent production Ault has looked for. Case in point: GW has not been able to string together a winning string, with every victory followed by a loss – and most losses coming in straight sets.
“There are some games that got away from us that we played extremely well in,” said Ault. “I think that games like [Saturday night versus JMU] are disappointing because it’s definitely a match that we should have taken.”
Struggling to find a balance between on-court experience and chemistry, Ault has seen the team surrender points to opponents because of young mistakes, or as Ault calls them, “growing pains.”
“We talked about volleyball not being a game that’s perfect, there’s going to be errors, there’s going to be mistakes made that you just have to brush aside,” said Ault, who added that she wants confident players on the floor who aren’t easily rattled.
With just two weeks before the team heads into Atlantic-10 Conference play, Ault must now decide how to best use her young roster, while knowing that she will be without two of the team’s veterans and past statistical leaders, at least for the time being.
On opening night against Maryland, senior middle blocker and team leader Armstrong sustained a concussion that has sidelined her for the majority of this early season. For the past two seasons, Armstrong led the Colonials in service aces, blocks, and attack percentage. So far this year, though, Armstrong has appeared in only 12 sets for the Colonials, with Ault cautious to put her back in the rotation.
Newman, the outside hitter in the team’s original starting lineup, has also played sparingly. After sustaining an injury to her back, Newman has been backed away from the pin, as the coaching staff attempts to manage the injury and give her rest. Ault sat Newman for most of last Wednesday’s match against Georgetown and used her little as a passer in last weekend’s Carolina tournament. Before being sidelined, Newman led the Colonials’ attacking front in kills and kills per set.
With those injury setbacks in mind, a record that sits just under .500 may not be cause for outcry. Ault is no stranger to injuries affecting her roster, as each of her last two years have been plagued by injured players, so she knows how to make the best with what she has.
Senior outside hitter Rachael Goss has emerged as the attacking force in Newman’s absence, now leading the Colonials with 86 kills and ranking second in digs, with 77.
Another key for the Colonials will be the progression of freshman Osuchukwu, who was recently named Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week. She leads the A-10 with a .353 attack percentage (minimum 3.0 attempts/set) and leads the team in solo blocks (15), block assists (25), and total blocks (40).
Lastly, GW will look to Doyle, who has clearly been one of the Colonials’ most consistent players this season, for leadership. Doyle ranks first in the A-10 with 5.11 digs per set. On the season Doyle leads the Colonials with 189 digs, making her second in the conference.
Doyle will need to carry her strong defensive play into conference play if the Colonials want to contend against conference powerhouses like VCU and Dayton.
“Volleyball is very much a game of momentum, and as long as we can grab it and keep the momentum as high as possible, that’s what we need to do,” Ault said.
The Colonials head to DeKalb, Ill. this weekend for the NIU Invitational.