Volleyball seeks fresh start after last season’s premature end

Media Credit: Gabrielle Rhoads | Staff Photographer

In several of the first matches, the Colonials came out hot but faltered in the latter phases of the sets.

Volleyball is starting the year with five consecutive losses as the team prepares for the Dig the District Invitational this coming weekend.

After enduring a shortened one-win season last year, GW (0-5) dropped their first five games to start the 2021 season. The Colonials have won just one set and have been shut out in their last three games, but despite the underwhelming start, head coach Sarah Bernson said there’s a lot for the team to build on as they march toward the rest of the season.

“We are ahead of where we were last year by a big leap, and it’s just shoring up a couple of things,” Bernson said. “When you play competition, some things get exposed that maybe you don’t see in your practice gym.”

The squad has averaged just 10.5 kills per set at a .134 clip but has committed 93 attack errors in the first five matches, a decrease from last season’s 122 errors. The Colonials have accumulated 168 points and 148 assists overall, while their opponents have racked up 230 points and 216 assists.

Bernson said the team has focused on bolstering their offense throughout the sets by practicing serves, middle transitions and passes. She said they have improved their sign-off percentage, holding more points during transitions than last season.

In several of the first matches, the Colonials came out hot but faltered in the latter phases of the sets. The squad has struggled on the receiving end of serves thus far, resulting in 34 reception errors. Bernson said the team needs to improve how they deal with nerves and pressure so they don’t deviate from the game plan and allow their formation to get tight.

“So we’ve been really talking a lot this week about over-communicating during those times and try to avoid going into yourself when you feel that stress,” Bernson said. “So that you can work on your execution, whether that’s the service patterns or the swings where you attack.”

Senior middle blocker Melody Williams said the team is looking to score more points in transition and to create a bigger presence around the net. She leads the team with 15 blocks on the season. Regardless of the losses, Williams said the team is keeping their expectations high.

“I think we’ve all been really determined to show our A-10 conference and all of our opponents that last season wasn’t us, that we’re a much better team,” Williams said. “So I think our work ethic in the gym has picked up greatly, and so has our communication.”

Despite the rocky start, there have been some bright spots. Senior setter Lauren LaBeck holds a team-high 112 assists, notching a season-high four kills, two aces and three blocks against American University Aug. 28. She said the team is working on holding a low and tight presence on the net to enhance their blocking while adjusting their defensive sets according to the opponent.

Freshman outside hitter Salem Yohannes also racked up a season-high 18 kills and 13 digs against the Eagles. She currently ranks first among the team with 53 kills, striking at a .160 clip in the first five games of the season. LaBeck said Yohannes has been a great fit with the team and she has been impressed with her play despite her youth.

“She’s very composed on the court,” LaBeck said. “And she has a lot of experience, which shows me her volleyball IQ, she’s able to hit shots that even experienced players aren’t able to hit.”

Bernson echoed LaBeck’s sentiment and said she expects Yohannes to improve over the season and utilize her in a variety of sets as she becomes more accustomed to the team and the collegiate level of play.

“I think she’s just going to continue to get better and better, she adapted very quickly to learn the whole system of offense,” Bernson said. “Not just learning how an outside hitter moves within our gym, but then how an outside hitter moves within the system of a play.”

Though the team battled through some “light injuries” in the opening matches, Bernson said the team was still able to compete. She said she hopes to have everyone healthy by their next home game Sept. 10 against Loyola Maryland in front of their home crowd.

“Considering all of those complications that could have derailed a team, we were still able to persevere and play well,” Bernon said. “We had some really great moments, so I think our mental toughness this year is much better than last year, and I think it’s exciting to watch.”

Volleyball will look to turn the corner as they hit the road against Coppin State Wednesday. Game time is slated for 5 p.m.

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