With tournament nearing, volleyball must quickly ease growing pains

Media Credit: Dan Rich | Hatchet Photographer
Head coach Amanda Ault talks to her team at practice. The Colonials defeated American, a team whose RPI ranks higher than any team in the A-10, in five sets Wednesday.

Updated: Oct. 30, 2014 at 10:05 p.m.

When volleyball takes the court, the team focuses on settling out their play, maintaining consistency, minimizing errors, and “learning” and “growing” with every play.

But with only five matches left in conference play and the test of the Atlantic 10 tournament approaching, the Colonials’ time to study is running out.

The team roared back to push a two-set deficit to five sets against defending A-10 champion Duquesne on Sunday, but couldn’t hang on. The loss marked GW’s first five-set loss of the season.

“We are now focused on what’s ahead,” head coach Amanda Ault said after Sunday’s loss. “As you move into November, you always have to be playing your best volleyball. Every match that we have moving forward is important for us.”

The Colonials had an opportunity to rebound from the loss in a non-conference matchup Wednesday against District rival American.

In a back-and-forth dogfight, the Colonials edged American, a team whose RPI ranks higher than any team in the A-10, in five sets after executing their winning formula to a tee.

Sophomore middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu led all players with 18 kills, followed by senior outside hitter Kelsey Newman, who tallied 16 kills of her own. Junior Maddy Doyle led with a game-high 20 digs, while junior Jordan Timmer recorded a game-high 49 assists in the winning effort over the Eagles, who made an appearance in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament last year.

While the loss to Duquesne, a team that holds an identical 6-3 conference record with the Colonials, is no reason to raise a red flag about the talent of GW’s roster, if the Colonials want to take the title away from the Dukes, they’ll have to see that talent play to their ability on any given day.

The Colonials are 2-3 against other projected tournament teams in the conference, after defeating Rhode Island and Dayton in five-set matches and dropping decisions to Virginia Commonwealth, Saint Louis and most recently the Dukes.

Ault remains optimistic that the players can fix the mistakes that have challenged them when playing tougher conference opponents.

“We’ve had a couple hard weeks with the losses to Saint Louis and VCU,” Ault said. “I think we are learning how to communicate better with each other and how to help each other out on the floor more, which will prove to be even more important as we move into November.”

The team will continue to rely on what they do best: blocking and attacking.

Osuchukwu leads the conference with 120 total blocks, averaging 1.54 blocks per set. Along with Newman, the two combined for 41 kills against the Dukes, individually out-hitting each Dukes hitter. Defensively, the Colonials out-blocked Duquesne 15-11, led by Osuchukwu’s seven blocks.

Osuchukwu continues to anchor the team, and has earned five A-10 weekly awards this season, including Player of the Week honors earlier this week. Ault will need consistent play from Osuchukwu, along with Newman, Doyle and Timmer. Newman and Doyle recently added their names to the program record book after Newman earned her 1,000th kill and Doyle earned her 1,000th dig last week.

Despite a recent 3-3 record in the last six conference games, GW entered the week atop the conference in assists per set, kills per set, digs per set and blocks per set.

“I think our focus would just be on tightening things up and making sure that the things that are working for us, keep working for us. We have a lot of weapons, and we can attack you from a lot of different places on the net,” Ault said. “When we take care of that first contact, we make it really hard for teams to stop us.”

The opposition is their primary challenge, but the Colonials will continue to focus on what is in their control. An inability to limit the number of unforced errors that players commit has plagued the team at different points this season. Ault said her team couldn’t let unforced errors take them out of position to win a game, which is what might have happened Sunday.

Against the Dukes, the Colonials committed 10 service errors, nine blocking errors and two ball-handling errors.

“We need to stay on our serve and pass game and be on game defensively,” Ault said.

As the regular season nears completion, GW will likely have two more challenges before the start of the A-10 tournament: While the Colonials shouldn’t have a problem against conference bottom-feeders George Mason, Fordham and Davidson, rematches against Rhode Island and VCU will likely reveal whether the Colonials are ready to compete in November.

The Colonials return to the court Friday in a conference matchup against George Mason.

This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that the team had six matches left in conference play. The team has five remaining games. We regret this error.

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