For a team that had lost three of its last five matches, three wins this weekend did wonders to help the Maroons put the recent rough stretch in their rearview mirror as the postseason approaches.
20th-ranked Chicago (25–9) won three of its four matches Friday and Saturday at the Elmhurst Invitational, including a key win over 15th-ranked UW–Oshkosh, to get the Maroons back on track heading into the final part of the season.
“We refocused on some things, and we played really well as a team,” head coach Vanessa Walby said. “It kind of feels back to normal.”
Third-year Isis Smalls represented the Maroons on the All-Tournament Team with consistent hitting and strong blocking throughout the tournament, and Walby also pointed to the team’s middle hitters and strong defense for the showing.
“It was a team effort. Give credit to the middle blockers, this weekend especially.” Walby noted that “they’ve worked a lot with blocking… and they’re always a steady force in the middle. If our middles can close the block, it makes it easy for the defense to play around them.”
Chicago’s lineup was tested by Cornell’s big front line in the first match of the weekend, but the Maroons adjusted to win 3–1. With Wash U, Emory, and NYU all boasting size on the front line, the South Siders’ success against Cornell could bode well for the UAA tournament on November 5 and 6.
“We figured it out, mixed up shots pretty well, made good adjustments, pushed forward instead of waiting two, three, four points to adjust,” Walby said.
UW–Platteville gave the Maroons trouble in the second match of the day, the first time these teams have met since 1992. Riding a nine-match winning streak, the 25th-ranked Pioneers topped Chicago 3–1, with all three of their wins coming by just two points.
From there, the Maroons took on a familiar opponent, defeating Wheaton for the third time this season, this time taking the match 3–1. With the Thunder playing characteristically resilient defense, the Maroons responded with a strong defensive performance of their own, led by second-year Sam Brown’s 22 digs.
The Maroons followed that win with one of the most important wins of the season, toppling UW–Oshkosh 3–1. After near-misses against higher-ranked Wash U and Emory, the Maroons hit .400 for the match to beat the nation’s 15th-ranked team, a big upset for a team that will likely need to beat two higher-ranked opponents to have a chance at the UAA title.
“That’s a good win for us, it was good to finish,” Walby said. “We’ve played a lot of teams that have been ranked ahead of us, and we’ve had good matches, but we haven’t been able to finish. So it was nice to play consistently and well against a team ranked ahead of us, so the girls can see what that feels like.”
The Maroons will get another shot at UW–Platteville next weekend at the Illinois-Wesleyan Tournament, where they will also meet Monmouth and North Park for three important regional matches over two days. Walby said the team is expecting a 4–0 finish at the tournament, a result that would bolster Chicago’s résumé for NCAA bid selections and send them into the UAAs on a high note.