With the 2003 volleyball season just past the halfway point, injuries are seriously challenging a Maroon team that has been struggling since the season began. Chicago has a 4--17 overall record and is mired at the bottom of the University Athletic Association (UAA), with three losses in as many games.
"We were looking forward to working on a faster offense with a solid core of second-years Erica Pettke, Tracie Kenyon, and Katie Meinhover," said head coach Dorinda von Tersch. "We lost Erica, Tracie and third-year Jessica Scott to injury for three weeks or more. We felt it was better to be conservative in our estimates and not do long-term damage, but it means more games without them in the short run. It's forced our second-string players to stand up and be accountable."
This season has been a learning experience for a team that features no fourth-years and transfer student Jessica Scott as the only third-year.
"We're looking to the future a bit. We've got a dedicated, driven, hard-working group of girls, and right now their youth is their greatest asset," von Tersch said. "With the injuries, a lot of our players have been able to get a better sense of being a starter, being relied on to get the job done. It's very exciting to think about just how good this team could be in two years."
"At the same time, you can't just sit back and make the excuse that we're young, and we're playing against more mature teams. It's a double-edged sword."
In recent action, the team went winless in the first weekend of round robin play within the UAA, losing 1-3 to Brandeis, 0-3 to Carnegie Mellon, and 0-3 to Washington University on October 3 and 4 in St. Louis.
The team expected round-robin play to be tough, as the UAA features three ranked teams in number 2 Washington University, number 8 Emory, and number 16 NYU.
"It's one of the toughest leagues in Division III volleyball," von Tersch said.
Pettke, a co-captain with Kenyon, said that the losses in UAA play "really showed us how important consistency is to the game."
"We see what we can do when we are playing nationally ranked teams, but in order for us to be great we need to play every team as if they are number one in the nation."
Von Tersch agreed with this ideal, saying that the team has "been doing a lot of great things, but we're still struggling to do great things game in and game out."
The team will be looking to Kenyon, Pettke, and Meinhover to lead them through the rest of the season, with help from second-year Emma Hamilton and first-year Nikki Sindy.
"Nikki made some great decisions in our recent matches," von Tersch said. "She's really stepped up. It should be interesting to see how the second half of her season plays out."
Their goals for the rest of the season include all team members making quantifiable individual progress.
"If we set individual goals and meet them, team success will invariably follow," von Tersch said.
They are also looking ahead to upcoming matches, including Illinois Tech on the road on October 10, the Lake Forest Invite at Lake Forest on October 11, and the second weekend of UAA round-robin play on October 18 and 19.
"If we work on paying attention to details in our passing game and keeping our attacks aggressive and in the court, we're definitely going to be able to [succeed] in the next couple of weekends," Pettke said.
The team's season will culminate November 7 and 8 in New York City with the UAA Conference Championships, where the team aims to finish fourth.
On the other hand, von Tersch's eyes lit up at the possibility of pulling off a major upset.
"It would be awesome to knock off one of the top three teams," she said. "That would be the biggest moment of the season."
One of the highlights of the season thus far was the Maroons' victory over North Park on September 6.
"We lost to them last year when we knew that we shouldn't have. It was great on a personal level and great to know now that we can beat them," von Tersch said.
"It makes it more difficult when you lose and you haven't seen the best possible game. We are really going to work on our mental readiness, and hopefully a more mature team will greet the conference in November."