November 3, 2014

Chicago sweeps weekend as big tourney looms

The Maroons returned to action following a two-week hiatus with an undefeated weekend at Benedictine University’s Eagle Classic. In four matches against North Central (19–14), Bluffton (21–11), Dominican (22–11), and No. 16 Elmhurst (29–7), the South Siders only dropped two sets, both to Dominican, to improve their record to 24–11 (4–3 UAA).

Of the eight teams at the Eagle Classic, only No. 17 Carthage (31–3) also finished 4–0. The Eagle Classic marked the end of the South Siders’ regular season, which saw them finish fourth in the UAA.

The Maroons seem to be surging at the right time. This Friday they face Case Western (16–11, 4–3 UAA) to kick off the conference tournament.

“We are getting close to having all our players healthy,” head coach Sharon Dingman said. “[Fourth-year libero] Eirene Kim’s return gave us another player with the experience a team needs to succeed against the level of competition we played.”

The Maroons began their Eagle Classic slate on Friday with a 25–19, 25–16, 25–15 sweep of North Central behind the strength of their defense; the Cardinals managed only a .026 hitting percentage (25 kills, 22 errors, 114 attempts). Third-year outside hitter Maren Loe led Chicago with 11 kills, and third-year setter Ragine Graves tallied 31 assists and 13 digs of her own.

After sweeping the Cardinals, the South Siders beat Bluffton behind a .271 attack percentage (43 kills, 14 errors, 107 attempts) and five aces contributed by first-year outside hitter Makenzie Elder. Loe led Chicago again with 16 kills, and Graves contributed 36 assists.

On their first Saturday game, the Maroons again started strong, taking the first two sets 25–20 and 25–19 against Dominican. The Stars, though, won the next two sets 25–20, 25–14. Midway through the fourth set, Dominican scored eight straight points to turn an 9–8 deficit into a 16–9 lead.

Chicago jumped out to a 6–1 lead in the final set before the Stars took control to earn a double match point at 14–12. But a kill by Loe, initiatied by an assist from Graves, and an error by Dominican brought the Maroons back to 14–14, and Kim clinched the set 18–16 with an ace.

“We continue to improve,” Dingman said. “We have a great ability to make in-game adjustments, and we played hard.”

The Maroons stuffed the stat sheet against Dominican as Loe broke her two-week-old school record of 29 kills, this time finishing with 30; Graves dished out 52 assists for her third 50-assist game of the season; and Kim managed 27 digs in her return to action.

Chicago finished its undefeated weekend with another routine win, beating No. 16 Elmhurst 25–18, 25–19, 25–19. In the first set, the Maroons tallied 14 kills against one error on their way to a .315 attack percentage (43 kills, eight errors, 111 attempts), their third highest of the season.

After pulling away at the end of the second set, the Maroons jumped out to a 5–0 lead in the third set behind three aces by Graves and never looked back, winning the clinching set wire-to-wire.

Despite their success at the Eagle Classic, Dingman wants to keep the Maroons from becoming complacent ahead of the UAAs.

“For us to accomplish our goals, we need to prepare consistently, approach every day knowing we can improve, take care of ourselves physically and mentally, and be mature,” Dingman said.

The Maroons’ next match will be this Friday, when they will compete in the UAA Championship against seven other schools in Pittsburgh.