Women’s volleyball’s Cinderella season strikes midnight

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.

You could see the curtains slowly start to close on the women’s volleyball team’s season midway through the third set of their semifinal match against VCU Saturday.

GW’s communication started to unravel, balls fell between players and uncharacteristic errors cost the team down the stretch – all contributing to the Colonials’ straight-sets loss to the No. 2-seeded Rams (27-25, 25-19, 25-18).

“We just didn’t have it tonight,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “Thirty-one hitting errors. We got out-dug, we got out-blocked.”

The loss ended the Colonials’ hopes of a Cinderella season and their chance to win an Atlantic 10 Championship for the first time in 13 years. More disappointing, they had an opportunity to do so on their home court.

The Rams, although not perfect, limited their errors while benefitting from GW’s mistakes. By the end of the second set, VCU had just nine attack errors. No. 3-seeded GW, on the other hand, had recorded 22.

Ault said her team’s moves became predictable, making it easy for the VCU defense to adjust.

“We became very one-dimensional because we couldn’t get anyone else involved,” Ault said. “We were relying on the pins with Kelsey [Newman] and Rachael [Goss], and it made it extremely hard on them.”

VCU would record 13.5 blocks by the end of the match and disrupted the Colonials’ biggest scoring threat all season: junior outside-hitter Newman. Despite recording five set kills, Newman, who earned a nod to the All-Conference Second Team at the end of the regular season, struggled in the second set of play. She recorded eight attack errors on 13 total second-set attempts.

Freshman Chidima Osuchukwu, who earned All-Conference Second Team and All Conference Rookie team before the start of tournament play, led the Colonials with 10 kills, while sophomore libero Maddy Doyle led the defense with 10 digs. The loss ended the Colonials’ season with a 16-14 overall record (10-4 A-10).

After the game, a visibly distraught GW team struggled to come to grips with the fact that another team was going to hoist the championship trophy on their home floor. Tears lined the conference room table as players declined to comment on the loss.

It was the end of a long journey, especially after the Colonials started the season with six new players and a basket full of preseason growing pains. By the beginning of conference play, GW was 5-9, with eight of those losses having come in straight sets.

Then, the season took a 180-degree turn. An upset win over VCU on Oct 12 marked the first time the then 17-5 Rams were beat by an A-10 opponent. It was arguably the team’s biggest win during a period in which they would win 10 of 11 games.

“I think if you go back to August, and where we were at, and how we started and how we struggled throughout preseason – hitting our low with Towson here at home – from there, A-10’s, started and we got the confidence this team deserved,” Ault said.

The Colonials beat Dayton at home for the first time in 11 years, defeated District rival George Mason twice and split matches with eventual A-10 champion Duquesne. Ault had found the lineup of women she had been looking for all season, and they developed the chemistry to jump all the way up to third in the conference standings – four spots higher than last year’s seventh place finish.

The turnaround season was highlighted on Friday by GW’s first postseason win since 2008, the first playoff victory for every member of the Colonials roster, including head coach Amanda Ault, who took the helm in 2010.

With 10 players returning next season, including the Colonials’ top statistical performers, Ault is confident that her team can make noise at the very start of next season.

“We’re young, we have some really good pieces and we’ll fill those holes,” Ault said. “There’s a lot of good weapons and we can do a lot of really good things, we just have to believe in it. I’m excited for the future and I’m excited because this team has raised the bar.”

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