Volleyball’s biggest hurdle in conference play: themselves

Media Credit: Kiana Robertson | Hatchet Photographer

The volleyball team prepares to defend an attack by Dayton on Saturday. The Colonials defeated the Flyers 3-2 to improve to 13-5 on the season and 4-1 in conference play.

If Atlantic 10 volleyball had a version of the ‘72 Miami Dolphins, champagne corks would have popped somewhere Saturday night: there is no undefeated team in A-10 volleyball.

They would have GW to thank. With a 3-1 loss to Saint Louis on Friday and a win over Dayton in a 3-2 nail biter Saturday, the Colonials tarnished two perfect league records over the weekend, starting with their own.

“I think most of our losses this year have been because we’ve beaten ourselves,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “Looking at our losses, I would say, yeah, there’s definitely things that we did ourselves that didn’t allow us to win those games.”

By snapping Dayton’s nine-game winning streak, GW cemented itself as a legitimate title contender in the A-10. The Colonials sit atop the conference in assists, kills, blocks and digs and exploded with 71 kills and 13.0 total team blocks against Dayton. While that talent was against Saint Louis, 45 errors against the Billikens showed the team’s achilles heel: getting flustered.

Ault said the team might have overlooked Saint Louis after the Billikens dropped games against both Davidson and VCU leading up to their match with GW. The Colonials recorded six receiving errors against Saint Louis, negating a .211 to .191 advantage in hitting percentage and a 53-51 advantage in kills.

“That’s almost two sets you are giving a team without even having them play the ball, and so we really needed to minimize our errors, which I felt we did a better job of [against Dayton],” Ault said.

The team talked about the loss the morning of the Dayton game, but besides that conversation, sophomore middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu said it was as if the team “had amnesia” after its first loss of the conference season.

“We didn’t really recognize that team [playing Saint Louis],” Osuchukwu said. “We weren’t the team that we wanted to be.”

GW looked like a new team against Dayton. The middle sets swung back and forth with GW facing a loss at match point twice in the fourth set before forcing a fifth set off of consecutive attack errors from Dayton. The Colonials ran away with the final set, winning 9-15.

The team still had 43 errors against Dayton, which Ault said will be a priority to improve in practice going forward. But the misses against Dayton were not as bad, many of them coming because powerful hits just barely missed the mark. Against Saint Louis, the players seemed afraid of their own power, Ault said.

“Had [Dayton] gone the other way and we wouldn’t have been able to pull it out in the fifth, it would have been the first time we went toe-to-toe with somebody and really had a hard match and just really didn’t come out the right way,” Ault said.

Fervor and frenzy seem like two sides of the same coin for GW. Passion bubbles over in the good moments, like Newman’s massive roar after pushing the fifth set, but also in the bad, such as during the Saint Louis game when three players dove for the same ball.

Ault said the focus for the team “is definitely mental” heading toward a five-game road trip over the next two weeks. Still, the team can breathe a bit more easily now that two top competitors are out of the way, at least for the regular season.

Players said serve-and-pass drills and continued work on blocking will also be important, now that they know a target is on their backs as they head out of town. Serving is also still a weak spot: The team had just one service ace against Saint Louis and none against Dayton, while the Billikens and Flyers served past GW a collective 16 times. Against Dayton, the Colonials tallied eight service errors without a single ace.

But as far as confidence moving forward, the team said they have put Friday in the past.

“It was ugly and uncomfortable and we don’t want to go back to that place,” senior outside hitter Kelsey Newman said. “We learned from it. We’re not going to go back.”

So maybe there still is an undefeated team, they just weren’t playing on Friday. The team that was is likely the toughest competition GW will face all season.

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