October 17, 2008

Volleyball ready to try luck against conference's best

After 10 days of rest, volleyball heads to Boston tonight for the second University Athletic Association (UAA) round-robin of the season, a series of four games that will help decide the Maroons’ conference fate.

The last round-robin, which took place October 4 and 5, helped validate the program’s turn-around, as the upstart Maroons (16–8) went 2–1 with wins over NYU (17–7, 1–2) and Brandeis (10–8, 0–3).

With games against Case Western (13–9, 1–2) and fourth-ranked Wash U (19–4, 3–0) Saturday and Carnegie Mellon (14–11, 2–1) and Rochester (8–14, 0–3) on Sunday, head coach Vanessa Walby predicted a strong show for the South Siders, ideally finishing 3–1 for the weekend.

According to fourth-year middle hitter Kerry Dornfeld, it will take a strong defensive performance and good passing to defeat the UAA’s toughest teams. Walby pointed to Dornfeld and fellow fourth-year middle hitter Katie Volzer as vital in establishing a strong defense throughout the season.

“In practice, we’ve focused a lot on defense,” Dornfeld said. “That’s going to be big this weekend.”

As the Maroons head into one of the most important weekends of the season, Dornfeld said that Chicago has used the last 10 days to refocus after a sloppy 3–2 loss to IIT. Although not a poor performance, Chicago’s last game featured inconsistency that could cost the Maroons this weekend.

“Conference is so much more exciting, you tend to not have the lags like we did,” Dornfeld said of the IIT game.

The team will need to be on its game against the tough competition from Carnegie Mellon and Wash U, but Dornfeld said that no team is an easy win in the UAA.

“We’re not overlooking anyone by any means,” Dornfeld said. “We’re just going to go in, play hard, play consistent, and get some wins.”

The weekend starts with Case early Saturday afternoon. Last season, Chicago went 0–2 against Case, with the Spartans taking both meetings 3–2. Both squads, however, have found renewal in the 2008 season. While the Maroon have turned the page on last season’s 7–26 record, Case is working toward its first winning record in more than five seasons.

The first round-robin saw Case go 1–2, including a 3–0 loss to the same Bears team that Chicago will play Saturday afternoon.

Wash U, a team that has lost just 14 sets all season, currently boasts a nine-game winning streak, including eight three-set sweeps.

With seven players standing 5 feet 11 inches, Wash U holds a size advantage over the Maroons to go along with its clear advantage in experience. The reigning UAA and national champions have 10 players returning from last season’s roster, and Chicago’s young squad heads to Boston with zero wins against Wash U since UAA competition started in 1986.

“On any given day, you can beat anyone,” Dornfeld said. “There’s no reason why, if we play well, we can’t beat them.”

Next up after Wash U is Carnegie Mellon, a perennial challenge in the UAA. The teams’ only meeting last season was a 3–1 Tartan victory, and Carnegie holds a 20–13 advantage in the all-time series.

“Carnegie Mellon is a big match—they’re going to be a tough team,” Dornfeld said. “That will be a really good one, really exciting.”

The final match-up of the weekend will be against Rochester. After winning five of their first seven games, the Yellowjackets have stumbled of late, dropping their last five decisions.

Walby calls the Bears the greatest challenge of the season, but beyond Wash U and Emory, the coach believes her team can run the UAA table, hopefully landing a top-three conference ranking by the time the UAA championship rolls around in early November.

While teams like soccer and basketball decide the UAA crown based on standings at the end of the season, volleyball uses these standings to seed the winner-take-all conference tournament. A good seed is critical if the Maroons want to avoid facing the Eagles or Bears in what would be a tough first-round match-up.

“If we beat Rochester, Case, and Carnegie, we’ll be in third place, and that’s a great place to be in for conference weekend,” Dornfeld said.