With upset win over VCU, Colonials finally ride momentum

Media Credit: Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Photographer

Senior Rachel Gross tips the ball over the net against VCU earlier this season. The Colonials will likely have to get past No. 2 VCU if they want to keep the trophy inside the Smith Center.

Ten days ago, the women’s volleyball team dropped its Atlantic 10 conference opener against a VCU team that overpowered GW in a straight-sets victory.

The loss marked the fourth straight defeat for a team that still had yet to find consistency and a sense of unification on the floor.

The two teams met again Saturday, with GW looking for redemption. Sometimes a single week can make all the difference.

The Colonials left the Smith Center floor as the more dominant team, controlling the entire final set of the five-set thriller. The win extended GW’s winning streak to three games, their first and longest win streak of the season, with two of the wins decided in a final set.

Now, for a women’s volleyball team that has struggled all season long, winning finally feels good.

For junior outside hitter Kelsey Newman, the wins have been all about getting over the learning curve and being able to gel on the court.

“We had a long learning period, I think longer than we all wanted, but in my opinion, you’ve got to have downs to have ups,” Newman said. “We took what we learned from that and we really executed the past couple of games. We mesh a lot better right now and we’re just so supportive of each other and it feels great. You just want it so bad for your teammates.”

The win now puts the Colonials in a solid standing within the conference. GW should be able to take care of La Salle in their match next Friday, if they can duplicate their performance on the court from this weekend.

That matchup will be followed by a home match versus George Mason on Sunday, a formidable opponent who gave VCU a five-set run of their own, although they were unable to complete the win.

“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,” said head coach Ault, who has seemingly found a six-woman rotation that has clicked on the floor. “Now, with this, this is just another step for us, and a much-needed step, I’d say.”

Tied at two sets apiece heading into the decisive fifth set of the 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, 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.”

She had reason to doubt success. Players early in the season struggled to recover from past mistakes on the floor. But anybody in the Smith Center on Saturday could see that the Colonials roster carried a different mentality throughout Saturday’s matchup.

The players met Ault’s challenge.

The Colonials put together one of their best fifth-set performances of the year to cement their win against the Rams, snapping their seven-match win streak.

“We kind of feel on top of the world right now,” said Newman. “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.”

Thanks to strong service play from seniors Jessica Burr and Rachael Goss, the Colonials stood knocking on the door of their biggest victory of the season. 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,” Newman said.

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 made sure her team could disrupt the VCU back line before they could get Kriskova the ball. The Colonials used tactical serves to move the VCU passers and cut off their fast-tempo play.

After the first set, the Colonials were able to take control of the net, tallying 15 blocks in the last four sets and holding VCU to a .156 hitting percentage.

On the attacking end, the Colonials did what they do best when their offense is clicking – attack from every angle of the court with multiple weapons. Four GW players totaled 10 or more kills in the five set match.

For Ault, the win, above all else, serves as a much-needed confidence boost for her team as they continue their A-10 schedule. Before the start of A-10 play, her team restructured their goals for the season. Now, they planned to win every game on their home floor, and then win every five-set match.

So far, they’ve been able to do both.

“It means so much, with the tournament coming and everything,” Newman said. “We knew that if we win this game, we full-on believe that we’re winning the A-10’s. We were so ready for it. We had such a good feeling before the game, and to win five games on our home court, it’s phenomenal.”

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