When sophomore middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu is able to connect on an attack attempt for the volleyball team, the ball jolts off her palm, leaving the receiving defender to retreat and often mishandle the attack.
The 6-foot presence steered the Colonials to their sixth win in seven games Friday, improving to 12-4 overall with a 3-1 defeat of George Mason. Osuchukwu had a career-high 19 kills in the game, which improved GW’s Atlantic 10 record to 3-0 for the first time since 2003.
“I do my best to be a powerful force on the court and making sure that no matter what I do that the other team knows that I’m there,” Osuchukwu said.
Osuchukwu has been GW’s silent star on the court since she burst onto the scene as a freshman: After finishing second in the conference with a .365 hitting percentage and totaling a conference-high 33 solo blocks, she earned second team all-conference honors and was named to the all-rookie team.
This season, Osuchukwu has showed no signs of plateauing. Last month, she became the third player in program history to earn back-to-back conference player of the week awards.
“You know what you’re going to get with Chi Chi,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “Chi Chi is definitely a powerful presence on our team and somebody who is hard to stop, not only in our conference, but overall. When she’s on her game, she is really unstoppable.”
Osuchukwu, who averaged 2.36 kills per set and 1.01 blocks per set last season, has already upped her numbers from last year, averaging 3.65 kills per set. As of Oct. 1, Osuchukwu ranks 18th in the nation with a 1.49 blocks per set average. Osuchukwu also ranks fourth in the conference with a .363 hitting percentage.
A native of Virginia Beach, Va., Osuchukwu joined the Colonials after developing her attacking and blocking skills at Floyd E. Kellam High School, where she led the Knights to three consecutive Virginia state championships – including a 25-kill performance to solidify the final match victory.
During her freshman season at GW, Ault said Osuchukwu’s play became predictable, allowing opponents to effectively scout her and slow her down, especially in the second round of conference play.
“She’s definitely grown her game,” Ault said. “She was a little bit one-dimensional last year, but she has expanded the options that she is able to hit. She’s grown as a blocker and a leader.”
Osuchukwu was also a more reserved competitor last season, compared to the excitement and vibrancy she now radiates on the court. After an explosive kill or block by Osuchukwu results in a point for GW, the high-energy middle blocker celebrates with a near-patented double fist pump as she rallies with her Colonial teammates.
“It’s funny because it really wasn’t her strong suit last year. I think she was poised and didn’t celebrate and just went about her job,” Ault said. “After hearing from her teammates and knowing that they needed that reaction from her, she definitely brings that fire now and it’s great to see.”
Coming off a successful freshman year, Osuchukwu spent the offseason and preseason working to add depth to her play.
Senior outside hitter Kelsey Newman said during that time, her teammate improved her “confidence and realized her potential.”
“All the outside hitters, especially, really appreciate her because she relieves the pressure that is put on us,” Newman said. “There is no middle like her in the Atlantic 10 that can be anywhere near Chi Chi’s potential in that way.”
Osuchukwu also benefited from blocking and agility drills during early season practices. The blocking drills helped her recognize when to block or back off the net and pass, emphasizing the simultaneous responsibilities of a blocker.
On the attacking side, Osuchukwu said quick transition and penetration drills helped her increase her speed on and off the net and her anticipation of the opponents’ next move.
“I worked on being a more dynamic attacker, not doing one kind of set or one attack,” Osuchukwu said. “We really worked on me going behind the setter, being quick for transitions, little things like fixing my blocking technique and cleaning up my play from freshman year.”
In her second season, Osuchukwu demonstrates characteristics of a leader and motivator on the floor. Her bursts of energy are transformative and compel her teammates to enhance their play and endurance.
And Newman said when GW is trailing in a game, Osuchukwu’s gameplay only intensifies.
“Chi Chi doesn’t just kill it, she destroys it,” Newman said. “She beats herself [statistically] every single game, and that is both impressive and hard to do. She’s a good leader already through her actions, even as a sophomore, and sets an example for the rest of the team.”
In a season where Ault has said her players need to turn court chatter into effective play, the fourth-year head coach said she can always rely on Osuchukwu to make plays for the team.
“She also speaks more with actions than words, and we care a lot more about that this year more than anything,” Newman said. “If you can show it out on the court then that does a lot more than just saying it.”
Off the floor, both Newman and Ault described a different Osuchukwu, one whose “easy demeanor” and “outgoing personality” spreads among the team.
“She is a really fun and crazy person outside of volleyball,” Newman said. “Sometimes people don’t expect it because she is so intimidating, but she really is goofy and has a positive attitude and is fun to be around.”