A record-setting performance from third-year Erin O’Neil and some strong play in the middle was not enough to cure volleyball’s woes.
Facing a tough non-conference opponent on the road in preparation for this weekend’s UAA round robin at Ratner, the Maroons (4–20) fell in five sets, 30–28, 21–30, 28–30, 30–27, 15–10, to Lake Forest (11–11) Tuesday night. Coming on the heels of two losses at the Lake Forest quadrangular over the weekend, Chicago played well for stretches but could not seal the deal.
In the squad’s losing effort, O’Neil demonstrated just how well she has bounced back from a career-threatening ankle injury by collecting six block assists, bringing her season total to 78. The mark broke Carrie Moss’s previous school record set in 1996.
“We need to focus on our consistency. We need to be focused for two hours,” head coach Dorinda von Tersch said. “We can’t just give away points. We have to be accountable for the controllable variable.”
“It took a little transition in the beginning, as she was working on her foot,” von Tersch said. “She’s moving very well now. She’s not quite where she was but a lot of her instincts are back and I look forward to seeing how good she’ll be next season.”
Mental errors and inconsistency have plagued the Maroons thus far this season, and on Tuesday things were no different. Getting off to a slow start in the opening set, the Maroons fell 30–28. They showed their resiliency however, rallying to take the next game 21–30 and even up the match against one of their biggest rivals.
Behind the strong play of third-year middle hitter Koryn Kendall, the Maroons took a 2–1 advantage after three games, scoring a tight 28–30 victory to put the match within their sights. Posting an impressive .577 kills percentage for the day, Kendall provided an edge that the squad was able to capitalize on.
“Koryn was excellent. It was a wonderful performance for her,” von Tersch said. “The middle executed incredibly well, but we didn’t run the right side as well as we have been. But some of the things that we haven’t been as strong at yet we did very well.”
The momentum faded as Chicago sought to close out the match however. Capitalizing on Maroon mistakes, the Foresters forced a tiebreaker with a 30–27 fourth-set win, and went on to ice the contest 15–10 in the break.
With four tough conference contests on tap for this weekend, the Maroons will need to put everything together fast. In Saturday’s opener, Chicago takes on Brandeis (8–10, 0–3) in what should be a very favorable showdown for the South Siders. If the team can stay focused, it should be able to notch its first win since September 22.
If volleyball comes through with the victory, there will be little time for celebration, however, with the squad’s stiffest challenge of the weekend taking the court next. The Maroons will go up against perennial power 17th-ranked Emory (12–5, 3–0), the national semifinalists in 2003. A postseason shoe in, the Eagles have advanced to the NCAA elite eight in each of the last two seasons and will be the ninth nationally-ranked opponent the inexperienced Maroons have faced this season.
“I intentionally made the schedule very hard, knowing that the team is very young,” von Tersch said. “We have to see where we need to be. Now they know how they need to be practicing. Our skill is equal to theirs, no doubt.”
Awaiting the Maroons Sunday will be Carnegie Mellon (12–9, 2–1) and Rochester. After dropping their first UAA match to then-13-ranked Emory, the Tartans have rattled off five straight victories and are currently tied with NYU for third place.
While the Maroons know to expect a battle from Carnegie, they would do well not to look past Rochester (16–5, 1–2), a lesson they learned all too well last season. After defeating the Yellowjackets in straight sets in a UAA round robin, Chicago was paired off with them again in the conference tournament, but the score was reversed as Rochester won 3–0 to push the Maroons into last place.
A 3–0 record this season might be too much for ask for, but the Maroons can concentrate on playing their game and limit their mistakes, they can put themselves on solid footing as the season hits its final stages.