Volleyball bests VCU in five-set grudge match

Media Credit: Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Senior Kelsey Newman spikes the ball in a matchup against VCU on Friday night. The Colonials topped the Rams 3-2.

When the Colonials first saw the Rams on Oct. 19, they rolled over, dropping the match 3-0. But on Friday night with a home crowd, GW pushed VCU to five sets and came up with not just a win, but revenge.

GW’s hallmark offensive power carried the team in the tooth-and-nail victory, with sophomore middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu and senior outside hitter Kelsey Newman combining for 29 kills in the match. GW ended with 51 kills to VCU’s 45.

The Colonials’ explosiveness kept the team in the game through eight lead changes and 19 tied scores in the five setter. Though power has been GW’s calling card, players said it was missing in their earlier season loss to the Rams, giving them extra emotional fodder in Friday’s game.

“We had a lot of vengeance,” Osuchukwu said. “When we played them earlier this season and lost to them, they didn’t see GW volleyball. We showed them that when we play GW volleyball, they can’t hang with us.”

In the defining fifth set, Newman came alive for the Colonials by finding the holes on the floor and pounding down attacks. After tying the set at 12, Newman hit a blistering kill to give GW the set at 15-12, and the match.

That power was also evident in the first set when GW (18-7, 8-3 A-10) turned the tables on VCU (14-12, 7-5 A-10) to jump out to a 1-0 advantage at 25-13. The Colonials tallied 16 kills, hit .467 and added 4.0 total team blocks while holding the Rams to a .031 percentage in the opening frame.

“The first set, in the way that it went, I don’t think I have ever seen us that focused or that driven,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “You could tell from every single person that they had a mission.”

Some of that focus dissipated as VCU fought back in the middle sets and the match turned into a dogfight. The Rams knocked the Colonials off balance: GW racked up 18 attack errors and four service errors in the second and third sets combined. The teams were neck and neck, but with an 18-25 result in the second set and a 22-25 result in the third, VCU had driven GW into a corner entering the fourth.

With the Colonials needing to win out the remaining sets to get the victory, Ault changed up the game plan. She pulled outside players slightly off the pin and got creative with the playbook, focusing heavily on first contact balls to keep the offense sharp in the fast-paced game.

“We knew it was going to be scratching and crawling the whole way through,” Ault said. “We talked about how they kind of adapted to us in the second set because we didn’t adapt our game, and were trying to do the same things and they were stopping us.”

Even with the changes helping GW fight back, veteran offensive players stuck to their typical skills to help build up steam. Osuchukwu and Newman racked up 13 kills combined in the fourth and fifth sets.

The Colonials went on an 11-3 run in the fourth, using aggressive serves to throw off VCU’s system, stifling the Rams’ creativity on plays and setting themselves up for easy blocks. VCU committed eight errors during GW’s run and, though they fought back and pulled within five, the Colonials took the set 25-19 despite being held to a -.065 hitting percentage.

The success in the fifth set gave the Colonials their third win in a row with three games remaining before the A-10 tournament. The team has thrived in high-stakes situations this season, with Friday’s match putting them at 4-1 in five setters.

“I love the feeling of being depended on and having that pressure,” Newman said. “I want every ball at the end of the game when it comes down to the wire. I want it and I don’t want any questions asked.”

The Colonials return to action Saturday at 7 p.m. when they host Davidson on Senior Night, GW’s final home game of the season.

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