Volleyball heads to UAAs

Carrying a fourth-place seed, Chicago has a chance to cap a comeback year with a stellar conference performance.

By Chris Boots

If the 2007 regular season gave the women’s volleyball team reason to worry heading into last year’s UAA tournament, the 2008 season has given them reason to believe.

The fourth seed in the tournament, the Maroons (18–14, 3–4 UAA) will start with a four-team round robin that decides which two teams qualify for the tournament final. Joining the Maroons in Pool A will be fifth-seed Brandeis (17–11, 3–4) and eighth-seed Rochester (11–23, 0–7), along with the number-one seed in the tournament, Emory (27–5, 7–0). Chicago has already bested two of these opponents this season despite falling to the Eagles, and if the squad plays to seed, a second-place finish in pool play will allow the Maroons to compete with likely third-seed Carnegie (19–14, 4–3) for a shot at third in the conference. Beating their seed for the bronze UAA finish is the Maroons’ goal.

“We’re feeling fairly confident going into this weekend,” first-year outside-hitter Isis Smalls said. “We had a great week of practice, so we’re expecting that to yield great results. We are looking to place at least third in conference.”

If Chicago defies the odds and finishes first in their pool, they will advance to the tournament final in a matchup with Pool B’s champion, likely defending NCAA champion Wash U (26–6, 6–1). The second-, third-, and fourth-place finishers will also pair up for the weekend’s final games Saturday afternoon, determining the overall conference placing for each squad.

Kicking off the tournament early this afternoon, Chicago will meet Rochester in a rematch of the Maroons’ last conference game, played on October 19.

In that meeting, Chicago rode a .309 hitting percentage to a four-game win, taking advantage of a Yellowjacket squad that has struggled greatly in UAA since 2006. Winless in the conference this season, Rochester has totaled just four UAA wins over the past three years.

Following Rochester, the Maroons will meet Brandeis, a squad has taken three-game victories in each of its past three match-ups, a streak that dates back to October 25.

The Maroons won their October 5 meeting with the Judges in three games, but none of those was decided by margins of more than five points. After going 0–3 at the first UAA round robin, Brandeis took three of four in the latest conference round robin and now boasts the same conference record as Chicago.

If the South Siders make it through these first two challengers unbeaten, they will set up a meeting with Emory that determines who gets a shot at the UAA crown, barring an unexpected loss for the front-runners earlier in the weekend. Undefeated in the conference, the Eagles earned the tournament’s first seed with a convincing four-game win over the Bears on October 18.

Winning eight of their last nine contests, the Eagles dropped just 13 games in October en route to an 11–2 record for the month.

In last year’s title game, Emory defeated Wash U in five games for the Eagles’ second conference title in three years. Emory has not finished lower than fourth since 1994.

“In order to beat Emory, we are going to have to bring that competitive drive that we know we have,” Smalls said. “They are not just going to roll over and let us win. We are going to have to bring some serious fire. It’s very doable though.”

Whether they can power their way into the championship game or not, any performance at or above fourth place will be an accomplishment for the Maroons, who are enjoying their best season since 2004 after last fall’s disastrous 7–26 campaign. Attempting to break into the top three for the first time since 1996, Chicago knows that a solid UAA finish would be the perfect way to cap off its Cinderella season.

“I know we all have thought long and hard about how we could finish this UAA tournament to reflect the great season we’ve had so far,” said Smalls, “but we are trying to focus on one game at a time. If we do that, the results will follow.”