The stomping of feet and cheers from the stands echoed throughout the gym at Ratner Athletic Center Saturday afternoon for the UAA women’s volleyball championship game between the host UChicago Maroons and the visiting Emory Eagles.
The Maroons were able to advance to the finals after two solid performances this past Friday. In their opening game of the tournament, UChicago, ranked No. 2 nationally, defeated Rochester easily in three sets (25–17, 25–14, 25–12). UChicago was led by standout performances from first-year Ellie Alden and third-years Emma Griffith and Katherine Wilson. Alden posted nine kills on 10 attempts, in addition to a block assist. Griffith aided the offense with 33 assists and five aces off of the service while Wilson contributed to a fantastic start to the tournament with 15 digs.
With their win, UChicago advanced to the next round later that day where they were able to cruise to another quick victory, this time against No. 19 Carnegie Mellon. The Maroons made quick work of the Tartans, defeating them in three sets (25–8, 25–17, 25–12). Alden and Griffith were once again key contributors along with fourth-years and captains Madison Pearson and Anne Marie Stifter. Pearson posted a .647 kill percentage along with having two block assists. Stifter added an impressive eight kills and six digs.
As a result, the hosts advanced to the championship where they faced the No. 1–ranked team in the country, Emory. These two teams played each other during the regular season on October 20, where UChicago defeated the Eagles in four sets (3–1).
The most recent meeting for the UAA title, however, did not go the way of the Maroons. In a fiercely fought battle, UChicago took the first set (25–19), only to have Emory respond by winning the second (25–17). This back and forth continued for the third (UChicago won 25–18) and fourth sets (Emory won 27–25), ultimately forcing a fifth and final set where the Eagles would be crowned champions for a second consecutive year.
Although this past weekend did not end as the team had wanted, the players are hopeful as the NCAA tournament is about to begin. Griffith explained that the outcome does not change how dedicated the team is. “We can’t wait to get back on the court to practice again this week and get better with the few days we have before we play again.”
Similarly, Stifter thought that this weekend, especially the team’s game against Emory, acted as a learning opportunity going forward. “I think that playing in a five-set match really taught us that winning is grueling and difficult; we have to play hard for every point.” Looking ahead to the national tournament, Stifter says they are going to prepare for it like any other match and play their type of game. “Our brand of volleyball is playing hard and gritty, so that’s how we’re approaching [it] going into the tournament.”
With fantastic veteran leadership and young talent, the team is hoping to have an extended run in the postseason. According to Griffth, “Anne Marie and Madison have been great captains this whole season and it’s so exciting to have a combination of their experience as well as younger players.” She continued on to say that “Our biggest strength is that we are so well-rounded.”
Overall, due to their versatility and talented personnel, the UChicago women’s volleyball team has been on fire this whole season. That fire was not extinguished by the loss this weekend. If anything, the fire is even stronger now as they look to exact revenge in NCAAs.
The Maroons, still ranked No. 2, will begin their journey for a national title next weekend, November 15–17, at home in an eight-team regional tournament.