Down two sets to one against Rhode Island in their Atlantic 10 conference opener, the Colonials were well aware that the only way they could defeat the Rams Friday night was in five sets.
But through 13 games this season, GW’s volleyball team had not played a single five-set match. Rhode Island on the other hand, had played in two, going 1-1.
First, the Colonials had to reach the fifth set. After GW won the first in a seesaw battle, the Rams seemingly took control of the match in the second set and dominated for the majority of the third. The Colonials fell victim to the strengths of Rhode Island: strong defensive play and an offense powered by junior outside hitter Franki Darnold.
“We weren’t making good decisions. We weren’t taking care of the first contact very well,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “Our serve-receive kind of shut down.”
The Rams, who entered the match leading the conference in opponent hitting percentage, held the Colonials to under .200 through the first three sets. Darnold, who entered the match as the conference’s top hitter at 4.43 kills per set, combined for 11 kills in the second and third sets alone. She finished the match with a match-high 26 kills.
Sophomore Chidima Osuchukwu and senior Kelsey Newman said during the second and third set their team became “complacent” and “silent” on the floor.
But entering the fourth set, Ault said the original gameplan for the Rams began to set in, allowing GW to build some momentum as play continued. The Colonials were able to limit their unforced errors to just two service errors in the set, find holes in the Rhode Island defense totaling 16 kills on just three attack errors and defend the Rams attack by totaling five blocks in the set.
With the fourth set won, momentum on their side and the match knotted at 2-2, the Colonials first fifth set of the season was welcomed.
“We have this weird confidence,” said Newman, who was part of last season’s team that went 5-1 in six five-set matches last season. Newman finished the match with 16 kills and 14 digs.
The fifth set from start to finish belonged to GW. After jumping out to an early 8-2 lead, the Colonials won the set and the match by a 10-point spread. GW hit .500 in the final set while holding Rhode Island to -.250. The Rams’s biggest threat, Darnold, had just one kill in the decisive set.
The night-and-day play for the Colonials in the final sets led to the Rams totaling the most attack errors on the season at 35. Rhode Island’s .140 hitting percentage to end the game was the team’s second-lowest total this season.
After earning GW’s 10th win of the season, Ault said the Colonials are still in search of consistency on the floor.
“We looked like two different teams out there,” Ault said. “Even the way we started off in the first [set]. We started off well, we built a lead and then we don’t have confidence, and then we just let it get away from us. But then we found it again and we were able to finish strong.”
Along with Newman, two other Colonials finished in double figures in kills. Osuchukwu finished with 16 kills and junior Maggie Skjelbred finished with 10. Skjlebred and Osuchukwu were also instrumental in the team’s defense on the pin. Together, the duo combined for 8.5 of GW’s 17.5 blocks on the night.
Junior libero Maddy Doyle led all players with a game-high 19 digs.
GW next faces Fordham (0-14) at home Saturday night.