SPORTS

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December 2, 2008

Volleyball’s retooling, soccer’s playoff run highlighted a busy fall

Whether they like it or not, most U of C sports fans will soon get a break in their Maroon-sports viewing schedules. The quarter ends, we catch flights back to wherever home is, and although the wrestling and basketball teams will compete during the break, we won’t see it. I guess there’s an outside chance ESPN U would pick up women’s basketball vs. Kalamazoo on December 15, but it’s a long shot.

So until we’re back, we’ll just have to tide ourselves over with memories from the fall seasons. That won’t be too bad: It’s been a busy quarter for Chicago athletics.

Volleyball got the early headlines this year, winning 9 of its first 14 matches to surpass last season’s win total two weeks before school even started. In her first year at Chicago, head coach Vanessa Walby led a roster full of first-years to a 19–17 record, the volleyball team’s best since 2004 and just its second winning season since 1997.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, though, or even in three months, and the expectations built by the Maroons’ early success were tempered some by their struggles in conference play. Chicago went 3–4 during the UAA Round Robins, and they finished sixth in the Association after dropping three of four at the conference championship. But the team did put three players on the all–UAA honorable mention list, including fourth-year middle blocker Kerry Dornfeld.

Men’s soccer had a tougher go of it throughout their season. The Maroons opened their year with a 5–1 loss to fourth-ranked Messiah, and things didn’t pick up much from there. Chicago went 5–10–3 overall, but never won a game by more than one goal and never seemed to find an offensive rhythm. The team was picked to finish sixth in the UAA during the preseason, and that’s exactly where they ended up, with a 1–5–1 record in conference. The most memorable moment of the season came at 16th-ranked Elmhurst, where the Maroons prevailed 2–1 in overtime.

There was a time when the prospects didn’t look much better for women’s soccer. Before the season, Chicago was picked to finish second in the conference, but after losing 1–0 to an average Brandeis squad October 17, the Maroons were 6–5–1 and a long way from making the postseason.

What a difference four weeks made. On November 15, the women beat fourth-ranked Calvin in the eighth round of penalty kicks to advance to the third round of the NCAA tournament. After losing to the Judges, Chicago beat six straight teams, including Wash U in the regular season finale, finishing third in the UAA and garnering an at-large invite to the NCAAs.

These are supposed to be pleasant memories, so we won’t revisit exactly what happened to the Maroons in round three of the tournament, other than to say that Messiah came into that game averaging nearly five goals per outing. To put that figure in perspective...you can’t. Suffice it to say it’s a ton of goals.

After their postseason run, Chicago placed eight players on the all-UAA teams and honorable mention list, including fourth-year defender Anne Scherer and third-year midfielder Claire Gill, who were both on the first team. And for their contributions, head coach Amy Reifert and assistant coach Bannon Stroud were named coaching staff of the year.

2008 wasn’t the year for Chicago’s crosscountry teams. After a season of preparation, the women and men finished fourth and sixth at the UAA Championship. In a conference as talented as the UAA, those aren’t bad results, and for the women in particular, their performance at the conference meet created big hopes for the regional meet.

But at regionals, the women finished sixth, just one spot shy of being eligible to make nationals as a team, and none of the men in the running got individual bids to nationals. On the women’s side, fourth-year Rachel Venezia and second-year Liz Lawton, who made the NCAA meet individually—a major accomplishment—had OK days at nationals and finished in the middle of the pack.

So there’s a lot to look back on, and there’s already reason to look forward. Jennifer Kung, a first-year on the tennis team, won the ITA Small College Championship in October, and she’ll represent the United States at the International University Challenge of Tennis this Thursday through Sunday in Paris.

Third-year Troy Carlson earned the Most Outstanding Wrestler award at the Concordia Open on November 22. Carlson won all five of his bouts in the tournament and downed the eighth-ranked wrestler in his weight class.

First-year Bryanne Halfhill is leading women’s basketball in points per game and is currently second in the UAA in scoring. Halfhill and her teammates are off to a 4–1 start this season, and they’ll have a chance to get another win against Wheaton tomorrow.

Wrestling, tennis, and basketball were three of Chicago’s top teams last year, and we’ll get to see how these impressive starts pan out next quarter. Until then, we’ll have to make do with the memories from a jam-packed fall.