October 21, 2008

Volleyball nets fourth seed for UAA tourney

The final UAA round robin of the season quickly turned into a conference marathon for the Maroons, whose 1–3 record on the weekend left them disappointed but toting the UAA tournament’s fourth seed and a newfound confidence against the conference’s top teams.

The Maroons (17–11, 3–4 UAA) started the weekend with a five-game loss to Case (15–12), a match that the Maroons expected to win heading into Saturday. The long weekend continued later in the afternoon with another five-game loss to fourth-ranked Wash U (22–5, 6–1).

After a loss to Carnegie (17–12, 5–2) early Sunday, the Maroons found some solace in a strong win over Rochester (8–18, 0–7) to close out the weekend.

“I think we could have definitely done a lot better, to be honest,” first-year outside hitter Isis Smalls said. “I think we could have pulled out at least three of the games; actually we could have pulled out all four of them, really.”

After a 10-day absence from competition, the South Siders opened the weekend in rough fashion against a Case team that has struggled in UAA competition in recent years, compiling a 9–36 conference record from 2004 to 2007.

“Case was a good warm-up for us,” head coach Vanessa Walby said.

Chicago seemed to shake off the rust with a 25–21 victory in the first game, but Case’s unorthodox style of play drove the Spartans back into close competition.

“The advantage for them is they played scrappy defense against us,” Walby said. “It was kind of unorganized stuff coming over for us, so it was hard for us to control the tempo.”

Case rode two close wins of 25–21 and 26–24 to take the lead, but the Maroons were able to hold on to the fourth game with a 25–23 win, forcing a tiebreaker.

No strangers to the shorter fifth game, the Maroons had played to the extra set five times before the weekend, posting a 2–3 record. The Spartans, however, hung on in the final game to close out a 21–25, 25–21, 26–24, 23–25, 15–10 win.

After the tough loss to Case, the Maroons met one of their toughest opponents of the season in fourth-ranked Wash U. The reigning national champions entered the contest with a four-game loss to second-ranked Emory earlier in the day, and Chicago looked to capture its first victory over Wash U in school history.

“We were really relaxed—there wasn’t a whole lot of pressure on us because they were so highly ranked and we were the underdogs,” first-year libero Liane Rousseau said.

For the first two games the Bears played to their rank, using big blocking and strong hitting to take a 2–0 lead while allowing just 26 total points to the Maroons.

The Maroons found themselves staring at a three-game loss, as Wash U took control of the third game 8–0. On the strength of improved passing and blocking, however, Chicago charged back with a 25–21 win, followed by a 25–22 win in the fourth game.

“I know a lot of people in the conference were surprised,” Walby said. “There were a lot of coaches walking through the gym and doing a double take, and then they’d sit down and watch.”

The Maroons, however, ran into the fifth-game blues once again, as Wash U pulled out the game to cap a 25–15, 25–11, 21–25, 22–25, 15–7 win. The Bears had a .400 attack percentage in the final game, compared to percentages of .205 and .149 in the third and fourth games.

While the loss sent Chicago to a losing conference record, the Maroons took away a moral victory.

“Heading into Wash U, we knew we wanted to play our best, and wherever that wound up, we knew we played our hardest,” Volzer said. “Even with the loss, I suppose you’re never really happy with a loss, but if you’re going to go down, go down in five games and go down to the fourth team in the nation.”

Sunday morning saw the Maroons meet Carnegie Mellon, a contest Walby predicted last week would be a close match.

Carnegie eked out a 26–24 win to start the match, and inconsistent play prevented the Maroons from mounting a comeback later in the contest.

“It’s not what they did; it’s what we didn’t do,” Rousseau said. “It should have been closer than it was.”

Battling back and forth throughout the match, Chicago was unable to finish the second or third games, as Carnegie swept the Maroons with 25–22 and 25–23 wins.

“With how young we are, I think we were nervous to make a mistake on game point,” Walby said. “I never like to blame things on the referee, but there were some bad calls, and I think Carnegie would agree with that. The coach and I talked, and she was even shaking her head on some things.”

Looking for redemption against Rochester Sunday afternoon, the Maroons returned to the form that has earned them a winning record this season for the first time since 2004.

The team hit .309 for the match, Chicago’s high for the weekend, en route to a convincing 25–15, 20–25, 25–19, 25–16 win. Still, the Maroons would have preferred to sweep the rebuilding Yellow Jackets.

“It was nice to take the win, but I still could have played better,” Rousseau said. “It was a good win, but I wouldn’t call it satisfying by any means.”

The Maroons finished the weekend with the fourth seed in the UAA Championship tournament, which takes place November 7 and 8. Chicago will meet Rochester, Brandeis, and Emory in pool play before moving onto the bracket section of the tournament.

“Now we kind of have a taste of what everybody’s about,” Walby said. “How the pairing pairs up has put us in a good position to be successful throughout the weekend.”

The Maroons will look for more redemption this weekend at the Elmhurst Invite. Chicago will meet North Central and Wheaton, both of which took five-game wins over the South-Siders earlier in the season.

“It’s kind of a revenge tournament,” Walby said.