Volleyball is headed to the Atlantic 10 Championship for the second time under head coach Sarah Bernson after missing postseason play last year.
The Colonials (15–13, 8–6 A-10) closed out their last week of the season losing to Fordham (12–14, 9–5 A-10) and defeating Rhode Island (8–18, 3–11) to finish with a winning conference and overall record. Last season, the team’s 11–15 overall and 5–9 conference record prevented it from seeing the postseason.
Bernson said in her three years as head coach, the program changes she pushed for came to fruition with the help of the team’s three true seniors – outside hitter Jordan Young, outside hitter Skylar Iott and setter Jaimeson Lee.
“When you’re coming as a new coach, you’re changing culture, changing game plan, philosophies – it’s a lot,” Bernson said. “For that to be successful, you need their buy-in, their belief and their ability to lead. So the three seniors that are true seniors, they’ve done that.”
Iott leads the team with 383 kills and is followed by graduate student opposite hitter Paty Valle with 186 kills of her own. Iott inks her name in program history as the seventh all-time in career kills with 1,121 to her name.
Young ranks fourth among all players with more than 100 attacking attempts, swinging at a .205 clip on the offensive end. She is attacking at the highest percentage of her college career.
Lee, who played all four years for GW, has garnered 873 assists this season and is on track to notch the most assists in her college career. She is currently ranked fourth in the A-10, averaging nine assists per set. Her 2,717 assists slide her into seventh in all-time career assists.
Bernson said she encourages players to ask themselves, “Are we who we say we are?” to help them focus on solidifying their team identity throughout the season.
“If we’re a team that’s going to hustle for balls, then we need to do that,” Bernson said. “If we’re a team that’s going to block well, we’re going to need to do that. Serving and blocking have been really keys for us.”
On the defensive side, graduate student middle blocker Caroline Sklaver has amassed 99 blocks and averages 1.02 blocks per set. The Colonials are ranked third in the A-10 in blocks per set, averaging 2.54. Freshman middle blocker Addie Feek and junior middle blocker Callie Fauntleroy are ranked No. 3 and No. 10, respectively, among all A-10 players in blocks per set.
Sophomore libero Bella Bowman has also gathered 405 digs. She averages 4.18 digs per set, making her good for fifth in the A-10 in digs per set.
In the game against Rhode Island, Bernson said she switched up the team’s attacking formation. She added that the game would help the team prepare against La Salle, which ran an offensive system similar to Rhode Island.
As a team, GW has excelled from behind the service line, earning 158 aces over the course of the season. Valle has nabbed 37 aces, leading the squad and coming in at No. 3 in the A-10. The Colonials have played a cleaner game this season too, accumulating 157 errors to their opponents’ 215.
Iott said the team has not made many changes throughout the season and instead wants to focus on what the team does well. She added that the squad’s strong serve-and-receive has set it apart from other A-10 teams.
“We’ve definitely solidified our serve pass,” she said. “We are a different serving team than a lot of teams, especially in this league. And so I think it wasn’t a change. It was just strengthening that throughout the season, because that does make us unique.”
Iott said the team has become more productive in communicating, and every player can speak up and help one another learn and grow from mistakes.
“If we’re comfortable enough on the court and off the court to correct each other, we have 14 other people helping us as players plus our coaches,” Iott said. “So it makes for a really good training environment and obviously it translates to the games.”
The Colonials are slated to play La Salle in their first postseason matchup. The conference foe has already faced and lost to GW during the season in 3–0 and 3–2 victories Oct. 6 and Oct. 18, respectively.
“It’s one and done at this point,” Lee said. “So if we don’t beat them, that’s it for us. And so we need to treat it like any other team that we’d be playing, re-scout them. They probably made a lot of changes and so just being able to adapt when we need to.”
Bernson said the team will prioritize slowing down La Salle’s offense and emphasize its own serving and blocking game. She added that the responsibility is on the team to expand its postseason run.
“It’s hard to beat a team a third time,” Bernson said. “For us to continue in the postseason, we need to score on our own kills. We can’t just count on a point of error.”
The Colonials return to action Friday at 3:30 p.m. against La Salle to kick off the A-10 tournament.
Emily Maise contributed reporting.