Inability to sustain runs hurts volleyball in difficult weekend

Media Credit: Camille Ramasastry | Hatchet Photographer

Freshman outside hitter Hanna Justesen attempts to hit the ball over Dayton's defense in the Colonials' loss on Saturday.

All season long, and particularly since Atlantic 10 play began, volleyball has taken the defense of its home court seriously. The conference tournament will be played on the GW hardwood in November, when the Colonials will want opponents to feel uneasy in Foggy Bottom.

But for two nights in a row last weekend, GW lost at home. The Colonials’ two biggest potential threats in the A-10 tournament, Dayton and Saint Louis, both learned what victory in the Smith Center feels like because GW could get, but not sustain, runs or momentum.

“I thought we were totally in control, so that’s why it hurts so much,” senior libero Maddy Doyle said after GW’s five-set loss to Saint Louis on Friday. “We had great hustle plays all throughout the third, fourth, fifth set and then at the end we didn’t really finish with those plays.”

In that match, the Colonials nearly staged an improbable comeback. After falling behind by two sets to none, GW won the third and fourth sets of the game to force a fifth.

They fell behind at the start of the decisive frame, only to go on a 6‒1 run to pull even at eight all. The outsides were clicking, and Saint Louis’ best player Danielle Rygelski had committed two straight attack errors before her coach took a timeout.

If life were like the movies, that’s where GW would have pounced. That’s how the reversal of fortunes would have been completed, with Saint Louis and its star back on their heels. The collective psyche of the arena thought it was coming, a few unsuperstitious souls on the GW side began to weave the phrase “unbelievable comeback” into their taunts.

Then the Billikens killed two straight.

“Even in the third, fourth and fifth set, we were like seven points down, five points down in the fifth. We’ve never built a lead and sustained it and really took over in a set,” head coach Amanda Ault said.

OK, but it can’t be easy, right? Two in a row isn’t much to talk about. Two in a row can’t stop an unbelievable comeback.

The Colonials countered with a 4‒0 run, with three of the points coming from Aaliya Davidson who has often had brilliant flashes this season with her length and understanding of leverage.

The collective breathing rate of the arena slowed again. Of course, they thought, Saint Louis had to keep threatening, but the comeback was still on and GW was up 12‒10.

Then the Billikens won.

They ended the match on a 5‒1 run, then ran triumphantly off of GW’s home court. They went back to Saint Louis, while the Colonials stayed home and dropped a match in straight sets the next night to Dayton. GW scored more than three points in a row only twice in that match.

“A lot of us are feeling the pressure or trying to understand, ‘OK, well, it’s not working so what should I do?’ instead of remaining calm and saying, ‘OK, that one got away from us, but we have to take care of the next one,’” Ault said.

The Colonials have played better teams than Dayton much closer this season, and given the sample size, there’s no reason to believe that Saturday night’s performance is a scale-able model of GW’s abilities.

The Saint Louis game may be more true to form. The Dayton loss was GW’s first to come in three sets, but the Colonials have now dropped three five set matches this season.

“You’ve got to be a goldfish and forget about it and move on to the next one because you can take care of that next ball,” Ault said. “You can’t do anything with a mistake or something that got away from you.”

There is no cause for panic, with the team holding a winning record before the halfway point in the conference season and with losses only to two of its best teams. But those losses, and earlier ones the Colonials dropped in five sets, have come in part because they have been unable to hold a lead once they have it.

That’s a subtle problem, but it’s one GW will have to fix before a comeback starts to seem even more unbelievable.

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