Volleyball falls behind last season’s pace halfway through conference play

Media Credit: File Photo by Olivia Anderson | Photo Editor

Senior middle blocker Kelsey Clark spikes the ball during a home game against Dayton last month. The Colonials have struggled to find their footing and are currently on a six-game losing streak.

Last month, head coach Sarah Bernson said volleyball was entering Atlantic 10 play “four weeks ahead” of where the team was last season, but with five games left in conference play – GW is lagging behind last season’s squad.

The Colonials entered conference play on the program’s first four-game win streak since 2015 and extended their run to five when they downed Saint Louis in their conference opener last month.

But GW (8–13, 2–7 A-10) has lost its momentum on the hardwood, going 2–7 in the team’s nine A-10 games. The Colonials are currently ninth in the conference, with the top-six teams advancing to conference playoffs.

At this time last season, the Colonials were 3–6 through nine conference games. Despite the rocky conference start, GW went 3–2 in its last five games to earn the sixth and final spot in the A-10 Championship.

The Colonials later became the first No. 6 seed in conference history to advance to the semifinal round of the tournament.

Although the team’s record is behind where it was at the same point in the season last year, Bernson said the team is an improved squad that is training at the level of its “best moments” from the 2017 season.

“We have raised our expectations and what we know we can do in game planning, in execution and especially in regards to effort,” Bernson said. “There’s a higher standard there.”

This year, the Colonials have forced six of their losses to four sets but have not been able to pull off the comeback and pick up wins. Last season, the Colonials pushed teams to four sets and lost four times, but when they forced teams to five sets, they won both matches.

GW went to five sets for the first time in conference play Sunday at Duquesne. The team coasted to victory in the first two sets before dropping three straight to the Dukes to lose the match – marking the Colonials’ sixth-straight defeat.

“It’s a testament to being really gritty and pushing through those last sets, and once again it comes down to our mental approach to the game,” senior outside hitter Kelsey Clark said. “We let go in the fourth set at one point, and that allows us to lose the game.”

Bernson said the team’s struggle to execute plays in close, competitive games is why the Colonials are stumbling midway through conference play.

“It’s when we have to pull away from our resources of confidence, and that’s where we’re not being consistent,” Bernson said. “Those errors are hurting us in those moments.”

Opponents are beating the Colonials in every statistical category in conference play except one – service errors. GW has committed 55 service errors in conference play, with opponents totaling 79.

But opponents are besting GW in the key statistical categories of kills, errors and blocks. The Colonials have stopped opponents at the net 36.0 times through conference play, but opponents have compiled 78.5 total blocks against them.

Last season, the Colonials also lagged behind opponents in kills and errors, but out-blocked their competition 234–215 overall.

“The little things add up,” senior middle blocker Alexis Lete said. “I think that sometimes we just forget the little things, how important they are.”

Even though the team is behind last season’s pace, the squad still has seen an improvement in its execution and technique from one year ago.

“We might have been doing better on the scoreboard last year, but I think we’re in a better place than we were last year,” Clark said. “We’re always trying to move forward rather than back because we’re a new team.”

Heading into the rest of conference play, Bernson said she is not afraid of changing the lineup on the court to create more points in sets.

The team will need to move up three spots to make it into postseason play. Looking down the road, players said the team will head into each match not underestimating their opponents.

The Colonials will face off against George Mason Thursday – a team they lost to for the first time in a decade last month – before playing against VCU, Davidson and Fordham, all teams that are ahead of GW in A-10 standings. The Colonials will close their regular season on the road against Saint Louis, the bottom team in the A-10.

“We have to approach each game like it matters, like it’s a championship,” Clark said. “I think we’ll probably see better results.”

The Colonials return to the court against George Mason Thursday at 7 p.m.

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