After rough season, volleyball earns surprise fifth-place at UAAs

By Chris Boots

After managing only four wins all season, volleyball fought nationally ranked competition one last time and upset two higher ranked teams to close out their 2006 season with a pair of huge wins.

Seeded seventh heading into the tournament, Chicago (6–29) posted a 2-–3 record, clinching fifth place at the UAA Championships in Pittsburgh. The tournament saw remarkable efforts both offensively and defensively from players across the court. Holding up the backcourt, first-year libero Liz Sugden put up 64 digs. Up front, first-year outside hitter Diandra Bucciarelli led the Maroons with a whopping 51 kills, closely followed by an equally impressive 49 from third-year middle hitter Erin O’Neill. In her final appearance for the team, fourth-year setter Nikki Sindy supported the pair with 111 assists, raising her all-time school record to 3,136.

“Sindy closed out her career really well on Saturday,” head coach Derinda von Tersch said. “Buciarelli played phenomenally; she was a really strong force for us. Sugden was near perfect. Everyone gave a really strong performance; they were just unstoppable. I was ecstatically pleased that we were able to step up as a group and get it done.”

Opening the weekend on Friday against 13th-ranked Emory (27–10), Chicago grabbed a first-game win, yet the Eagles’ strong offense brought a quick end to the match, 30–20, 30–14, 28–30, 30–12. Up against equally stiff competition from 19th-ranked NYU (32–6), the Maroons pushed the first game into extended play yet couldn’t pull out a win as the Violets stuffed them 36–34, 30–14, 30–25. The day’s real heartbreak, however, came as the South Siders cruised to a 2–0 game margin against Brandeis (19–17) only to stumble and watch their chances of an early upset disappear as the Judges surged from behind to clinch a five-game decision, 24–30, 28–30, 30–26, 31–29, 15–11.

“What’s disappointing is having the skill level to compete against teams like Emory and NYU and not being able to close it,” von Tersch said. “We had Brandeis beat, but we weren’t able to step up. I was pleased with the skill level we were playing, but unfortunately I saw a lot of the same characteristics as earlier this year, just not being consistent. We had some lost opportunities.”

However, the Maroons couldn’t have been overly optimistic against Emory and NYU’s powerhouses, and knew the real challenge would lie on Saturday.

“We still have a lot of lingering injuries,” von Tersch said, “and three games is hard for any team, and so on Friday I didn’t want to overload the starters, and I balanced out our players as much as I could. My big concern was being able to finish strong on Saturday.”

Finishing strong would be an understatement. Determined to make a stand in their final matches of the season, the Maroons came out strong to edge Rochester (22–12) 30–22, 30–26, 21–30, 30–23. However, the day’s real triumph came with a chance for redemption against Brandeis.

Bolstered by remarkable individual efforts including 15 digs from Sugden and 13 kills from Bucciarelli, Chicago took their revenge and overcame a large deficit late in the fourth game to cement a victory, closing their season in nearly flawless fashion, 23–30, 30–22, 30–21, 30–28.

“Against Brandeis the second time, we were down seven points in the 4th game, and I remember thinking, we can’t do this again, we can’t lose again,” von Tersch said. “But the team just got huge momentum, and we came back.”

Ending a 12-game losing streak, the twin victories brought much-needed inspiration to a young team that has struggled this season, and the stellar play the Maroons served up leaves the team on a high note heading into a now-promising fall.

“On Saturday, we played phenomenally,” von Tersch said. “We were determined. Our passing was perfect, our execution was solid all the way through, I couldn’t have been more proud. I feel like the tough scheduling we had this year really paid off. That perfect ball on Saturday made it all worthwhile.”

Saturday’s matches were the last of the season for the Maroons. They’ll return to the court in August when the team heads overseas, spending its two-week preseason training and competing against club teams in China.