For the past decade, Dayton has ruled Atlantic 10 volleyball.
The Flyers have won seven A-10 titles since 2006, reached the NCAA Tournament in 11 of their last 13 seasons and have already been picked as a co-favorite with Saint Louis to repeat as conference champions in the league’s 2016 preseason poll.
GW understands the powerhouse’s might all too well.
In each of the past two seasons, the Colonials’ shot at an A-10 crown has been thwarted by Dayton — two years ago in Ohio, dropping the championship final in four sets, and last year in a five-set semifinal at the Smith Center.
“The last two seasons have not ended the way I wanted them to,” head coach Amanda Ault said. “So what we need to figure out is what do we need to do. This year, we want to be battle-tested and be ready to go.”
In her fifth year helming the program last year, Ault led GW to its second consecutive 20-win season (21-11, 9-5 A-10) and third straight trip to the postseason.
But Ault is determined to do what it takes to get her team — which opened its 2016 campaign this past weekend—further than ever before, and flip the familiar script of the past two seasons.
“We are changing things up this year,” Ault said. “We never come back the same team we were the season before, but we always come back stronger. We always come back determined to succeed.”
This fall volleyball will try to kickstart its season with the help of nine letter winners — including senior middle blocker and two-time AVCA All-East Region selection Chidima Osuchukwu. The Colonials also have a fervid determination to return to the A-10 Tournament and walk away as champions for the first time since 2000.
As a junior, Osuchukwu ranked ninth nationally in total blocks (168) and blocks per set (1.51) and fourth in conference play with 416 total kills. The Virginia Beach, Va. native has also been named to the A-10 All-Championship team in each of her last three seasons in Foggy Bottom, and to the All-Conference First Team in 2014 and 2015.
“Every year has been a good year in this program, but I want this year to be the best,” Osuchukwu said. “I want this for me and my last year, but more importantly, for this team.”
With the departure of Maddie Doyle — a leading player in the backrow for her four-year GW career — this offseason, the Colonials have made it a top priority to fortify their defensive game this fall.
“We’ve always had a strong defense, and we are focusing right now on making sure it stays that way,” Ault said. “When we get that ball up, the rest takes care of itself.”
Helping on the offensive end is sophomore Kelsey Clark. The outside hitter was named 2015 Atlantic 10’s Co-Rookie of the Year last season — a first for GW volleyball since 2006.
After a standout performance, Clark finished last season second on the team with a recorded 288 kills and 327.5 points.
Proving herself as an impactful force on the net, Clark has been able to work on building her skills as a player and as a leader. The team’s chemistry is “better than ever,” and allowing the team to direct its attention to improving the skills of their game, Clark said.
“I will be whatever my team needs me to be and that’s the same for everyone,” Clark said. “We all will do what the team needs, and we will all do what is needed to win.”
GW also welcomes five newcomers this season, some of whom are already making a positive impact on the team’s dynamic.
Skylar Iott, a freshman outside hitter from Ida, Mich., was a commanding force at last weekend’s Cavalier Classic tournament in Charlottesville, Va. — accumulating 37 kills and swinging a .267 average in her first three games. Iott comes to GW a decorated player and state champion.
She said she attributes her performance to the “infectious drive, aggressiveness and positivity of her teammates,” and calls herself a learning player with a strong determination to be a player her team can be proud of.
The Cavalier Classic marked the beginning of a challenging non-conference slate for the Colonials.
The team fell short in a Saturday doubleheader against Big Ten opponent Northwestern (15-25, 18-25, 20-25) and Virginia (27-29, 21-25, 20-25) of the ACC. However, GW did capture its first win of the season against Buffalo (22-25, 16-25, 25-14, 25-21, 15-10) Sunday.
GW (1-2) has been picked to finish third in the A-10 preseason poll, conducted by the head coaches in the conference, just behind Dayton and Saint Louis.
“Our biggest goal right now is to keep learning and moving forward in the process,” Ault said, “We are going to figure out what needs to be refined and what needs to be made better. If we take care of these foundational skills and strengthen our team dynamics then there is nothing stopping us from being ready for A-10s.”
The Colonials return to action Friday at the Seton Hall Invitational in South Orange, N.J. where they will face Seton Hall, Towson and Canisius.