For the first time in four years, there is no clear favorite to run away with the Atlantic 10 championship crown for women’s volleyball.
The Smith Center will host the tournament for the first time in more than two decades starting Friday, becoming an arena for A-10 teams that danced around the regular season’s final few weeks.
Here is a breakdown of the top three teams competing to win the championship:
GW (No. 3)
The Colonials enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed in the tournament, and will have to win a tough string of three matches in order to keep the A-10 championship trophy from leaving the Smith Center.
But that’s not to say that GW doesn’t have as good of a chance to win the title as the top two seeds.
GW’s shaped their identity this season from their balanced attack, where they never dominated an opponent in a single aspect of a game but got an edge from their ability to solidly perform in all areas. The Colonials finished in the middle of the pack in just about every statistical category this season with their peak at ranking third in the conference in digs at 14.4 digs per set.
GW has a split record versus every potential opponent they could face in the tournament this weekend, with the exception of Saint Louis who they only played once.
What could put the Colonials over the edge, though, is home court advantage for the entire tournament. GW posted a 6-1 home record in the regular season, while three of the five other teams in the tournament having fallen to the Colonials at home, including VCU, Dayton, and Duquesne.
If GW can bring a consistent and balanced approach to the tournament, they have an opportunity to make a run at their first A10 championship title in 13 years. But if its opponents, like Rhode Island in the first round, throw them off early in a match, GW could have trouble rebounding from trouble throughout the season.
VCU (No. 2)
For most of the regular season, VCU seemingly overpowered every team in the conference, maintaining the top spot in the Atlantic 10 for a large part of the regular season.
The Rams strung together both a five-game and six-game conference-winning streak to finish with an 11-3 conference record. But that is not to say that VCU ran away with every match. Most of the five-set matches VCU played this season were against A-10 championship opponents, with the Rams’ three losses coming at the hands of the host-Colonials (No. 3), and then Duquesne (No. 1) and Saint Louis (No. 4 seed) consecutively, to end the season.
VCU has found their success this season through playing a solid all-around game. On the defensive end, the Rams finished the regular season atop the A-10 in opponent hitting, holding opponents to a .151 hitting percentage per game and second in blocks averaging 2.16 blocks per set. VCU also ranked third in kills with 12.44 kills per game and third in hitting at .216 percent.
The Rams could be penned if teams contain the production of freshman star Romana Kriskova and find a way to get the ball down against the worst digs team in the conference. Until then, they are the No.2 seed for a reason.
Duquesne (No. 1)
The Dukes are a surefire A-10 powerhouse, finishing the regular season winning 11 of their final 12 games of the season, in which Duquesne won 34 of their 43 sets played. The Dukes’ two losses, though, come at the hands of GW and Saint Louis.
Duquesne finished the regular season as the most efficient hitting team in the A-10, averaging a .229 hitting percentage in large part due to the production of their top two offensive performers: junior Arielle Love and freshman Lacey Levers. The pair finished one-two respectively in league hitting percentage.
The Dukes also proved to be an efficient passing team with the ability to consistently get the ball to their sophomore setter Mary Henry, who finished second in the conference in assists at 10.16 assists per set.
After their first round bye, the Dukes have a solid case for entering the championship with the best odds to take home the title. Duquesne is a combined 4-0 against their potential semifinal opponents.
The Dukes real test would come in the championship match if they play either GW or VCU, who are responsible for Duquesne’s only two conference losses of the season.