The second UAA Round Robin for Maroons volleyball was a memorable one, with Head Coach Vanessa Walby collecting her 100th win, and the Chicago side capturing three of four matches.
This round robin wrapped up conference play to decide the seeding for the UAA Conference Championship in early November, an event for which the Maroons have high hopes.
On Saturday, the Maroons faced off first against Brandeis, cruising to a dominant 25–14, 25–14, 25–20 straight-set victory behind a team effort in which seven players recorded at least four kills each, second-year Nikki DelZenero collected 27 set assists, and third-year Samantha Brown led the stout defense with 11 defensive digs.
“Brandeis was a great first match for us,” Walby said. “We came out with a lot of intensity and our Chicago swag. We were able to play everybody and develop our bench and nothing skipped a beat with our level of play.”
“We played in the Brandeis match pretty confidently and were able to carry that into the first set of Wash U,” DelZenero said.
Second-ranked WashU brought a different can of goods to the affair. Chicago would be carried by the winds of momentum to win the first game, stopping WashU’s NCAA D-III record of consecutive sets won at 63.
“Wash U started out as a great match,” Walby said. “We came out competitive and played aggressively. I honestly think that Wash U was caught off guard.”
“The first game of Wash U felt calm, cool, and collected,” third-year Katie Trela said. “[Then] we just got frazzled the next couple games, like we weren’t used to winning against top-ranked teams, and we crumbled a bit.”
Wash U struck hard in the next two games, winning by margins of nine and eleven points, living up to their national ranking and their acclaimed defensive character.
“We stopped them from continuing to set a record, and they were angry about it,” DelZenero said. “A good team that’s angry isn’t going to roll over, and in the second set we needed to come back strong more than ever. When we didn’t, they capitalized and ran with it for two sets, and we just couldn’t put it together.”
Even with the performances in games two and three, the Chicago side felt satisfied with their effort. “I know that the scores in games two and three don’t reflect that, but we played pretty well,” Walby said. “We just got stuck in a couple of rotations that were hard for us to get out of.”
Chicago was down nine at one point in the decisive fourth set when they rallied to almost tie the match and force a tiebreak fifth. But the Bears of St. Louis bore down to pull out the 22–25, 25–16, 25–14, 25–22 win, with three players caressing double-digit kills and another three providing double-digit defensive digs. The Maroons were led by the powerful Isis Smalls with 10 kills and their own three with over 10 defensive digs each.
Sunday was a hopeful day for the Maroons and for their coach, as she approached her 100th career win with Chicago. The team fulfilled all its expectations for the day, cruising to a 25–13, 25–17, 25–12 drubbing of NYU, showing off their Midwestern brawn in collecting 34 kills and only six errors, compiling a remarkably high efficiency of .444 on attack. They followed that up with a 25–13, 27–29, 25–20, 25–13 win over Carnegie Mellon with only a few mistakes to be had.
“We played at a pretty high level throughout Sunday,” DelZenero said. “We frequently went on big runs against both NYU and Carnegie and terminated very consistently. It was a great feeling to see us play like that as a team after our ending on Saturday.”
“NYU and Carnegie were much easier matches,” Trela said. “We lost focus in the second game against Carnegie and played it safe too much. Our serves definitely became less aggressive, and we let them get too many kills off of tips. We pulled it together and started playing back up to our level for the third and fourth games.”
“The next two games were great! We played at a high level and everyone that saw the floor made a great impact. It is a good feeling to a coach when you can play anyone on your team and not have a change in play. I love that about this team. I am confident with whoever I throw on the floor,” Walby said.
As for Walby, she brought her record at Chicago to a magnificent 100–46 and her team especially dedicated the last day of regular season conference play to their magnanimous leader.
“She started her head coaching career at Chicago,” Trela said. “It was especially important to win both matches today because we had already decorated some gifts for Coach with the date on them!”
“Coach Walby’s 100th win is a huge accomplishment for her,” DelZenero said. “It just goes to show how much of a difference she’s made for the program and the hard work she has put into it.”
“To be honest I didn’t know it was my 100th win,” Walby admitted. “It was a very nice and unexpected surprise. It came by fast, but I owe a lot of credit to the girls. I think it is most special that I am able to share it with the seniors who have been with me for every single one of these wins. It is a sweet accomplishment.”
The two UAA Round Robins established Emory as the number one seed in the UAA Championship after they upset Wash U on Sunday, with Wash U and Chicago following in the ranks. These rankings reflect a similar setup to last year’s when they were number one, three, and four respectively.
The Maroons finish up their last game at home on Wednesday against a relatively strong Dominican side.