This post was written by contributing sports editor Sean Hurd.
Tied at two sets apiece heading into the decisive fifth set of the women’s volleyball team’s matchup with VCU, the Rams held all the momentum after winning the fourth set just minutes before.
But in the timeout before the start of the fifth set, head coach Amanda Ault gathered her team together and called on each of her players to make clutch plays on the court.
“It was the huddle right before the fifth set when I stopped them and I said, ‘Hey, I want you guys to think about making a special play right now,’” Ault said. “Every single person needs to make that special play. Stay engaged stay focused, and expect the ball.”
The players met the challenge. The Colonials put together one of their best fifth set performances of the year to upset the Rams and snap their seven-match win streak.
GW has now won three straight, with wins against URI last Sunday and La Salle Friday night.
“We kind of feel on top of the world right now,” junior Kelsey Newman said after the win. “We’ve got to keep going, we can’t just let off now you know. We have a lot of important games coming up. It’s just really important we keep doing what we’re doing.”
GW jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, due in large part to the service from senior defensive specialist Jessica Burr, who would finish the match with three service aces.
After a service error awarded VCU the ball, freshman setter Emily Clemens and junior outside hitter Kelsey Newman combined for back to back kills, stretching the Colonials lead to four at 6-2.
Despite VCU head coach Jody Rogers’ attempt to slow down a surging GW team, the Colonials stayed focused on pulling out their biggest win of the season.
GW would rally to take the next eight points from VCU, disrupting the Rams’ attackers, while capitalizing on their own opportunities on the pin. Senior Rachel Goss led the way with seven perfectly placed serves that kept VCU’s backline visibly off balanced.
Now at match point, a VCU service error sealed the upset-win for GW as a crowd of fans rushed the court to celebrate with the team. The final set totals read, 17-25, 25-22, 25-18, 19-25, 15-8.
“I think we learned a lot this week because we were still kind of coming out of a rough period for us,” said Newman “I still think we had a great game last week [against VCU], we didn’t pull through with a win but it was a learning game for us. This week we were able to take from last week and really apply it, and go for it on our home court.”
Prior to Saturday’s matchup, the Rams had won seven five-set matches on the year, including a five-set win over George Mason on Friday night. The win also snapped a seven-game VCU win streak, while handing the Rams their first A-10 loss of the season, after previously being 5-0.
Adjustment was key for the Colonials in Saturday’s win. In an eight-point first set loss, the Colonials seemingly reverted back to their old habits – unable to amount a single block in the entire first set and struggling on the attack.
The Colonials quickly learned that if they were to have any chance of winning Saturday’s match, they first would have to slow down VCU’s top hitter, and A-10 kills leader, Romana Kriskova.
Ault approached the issue non-directly, making sure her team excelled in disrupting the VCU backline before they could get Kriskova the ball. The team would use tactical serves to move the VCU passers and disrupt their fast-tempo style of play.
After the first set, the Colonials were able to take control of the net, amounting 15 blocks in the last four sets, and holding VCU to a .156 hitting percentage on the night.
“Moving their passers, getting that ball off the net, and getting their setter on the run kind of speeds things up or makes the set a little different for Kriskova out on the outside,” Ault said. “We knew that they wanted to go to her and we just made sure that our right side blockers were in front of her.”
On the attacking end, the Colonials did what they do best when their offense is clicking – attacking from every angle of the court with multiple weapons.
Four GW players totaled 10 or more kills in the five set match. Goss and junior outside-hitter Landon Garvik, as well as freshman middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu finished with 10 kills, while Kelsey Newman totaled 19 kills to lead the team. Osuchukwu added a single solo block and 10 block assists.
Emily Clemens posted 40 assists, while Maddy Doyle led all players with 21 digs.
For Ault, the win above all else serves as a much needed confidence booster for her team as they continue their A-10 schedule. Before the start of A-10 play, her team had restructured their goals for the season, two of which were to win every game on their home floor, and then win every five-set match.
So far, they’ve been able to do both.
“I think that our confidence was building from our road win with Rhode Island and last night being able to really be in control of the match,” Ault said. “Now, with this, this is just another step for us, and a much needed step I’d say. I’m glad to see us fight through this, we had some ups and downs in the match but they fought through and they believed and that’s the biggest thing. “
The Colonials will look to continue their momentum next Friday at La Salle.