October 1, 2006

Team on the rise: Volleyball sets sights on NCAAs

Good things take time. That’s the lesson that volleyball has taken to heart this season as it nears the end of a grueling regular season schedule. The Maroons (2–12) have gone back to building on the basics in 2006, knowing that once they master the small stuff, the number in the win column will eventually start taking care of itself.

But it’s not the record that the team’s worrying about this year. In a change of direction from the struggles of recent years, the Maroons entered this season with a realistic goal of contending for a bid in the NCAA tournament. This season was meant to be a long, hard road to the UAAs for Chicago, which has the makings of a potentially nationally ranked squad on its court this fall with its solid nucleus and a crop of fresh talent that includes four first-year starters.

“There’s just tons of talent and tons of potential,” said head coach Dorinda von Tersch. “This is probably the strongest team we’ve had the U of C in a long time, and I think they’re really going to be making their mark in the next year or two and really turn this program around for us.”

It’s a long-term goal with an emphasis on tackling the task at hand. The Maroons have hinted this season that they have fine-tuned their mechanics and have all the skills to join the likes of 2nd-ranked Wash U (11–1) in the next few years, putting up a staggering 2.6 blocks per game and giving 23rd-ranked Coe (13-–2) fits with their stoppage at the net when the two teams met earlier this season. Already the South Siders have forced teams to rethink their game plans to try and get around Chicago’s brick wall defense.

“I think what I’m most excited about is how the team is stepping up—our blocking as a team,” Von Tersch said. “When we played Central last weekend, our right side destroyed them. Part of that success is not just the individual performance, but it’s everybody doing their role.”

The struggle for the squad this September in posting a winning mark has been keeping up the mental intensity to finish the job against opponents.

“Our serving was hurting us badly, and it’s a focus issue,” said von Tersch. “We were giving away way too many points on serving. That has improved but we have to stop giving away the free point to opponents and start making them earn it.”

There’ll be no time for mental lapses this weekend when Chicago travels to Emory for the opening round of league play. The weekend’s matches will be the most important test yet in determining whether or not this young but talented squad can step up to the national scene.

With seven contests spread over two tournaments, qualification for NCAAs depends solely on winning the league tournament. That won’t be an easy task for the Maroons, who go into Saturday on the heels of a 3–8 conference mark in 2005 and need to get by the perennially dominant Bears, NYU (16–2), and Rochester (13–3).

“The team is young and very talented. When we play focused and are physically and mentally prepared, the match can go any way,” said von Tersch. “We just have to discipline ourselves mentally and physically so that we stay consistent. That’s our speed bump.”

Spotlight on Koryn Kendall

On a squad intent on moving up to powerhouse status, teamwork is important, but strong leadership is essential. That’s what third-year middle hitter Koryn Kendall brings to the court for volleyball. Sharing captain duties with fourth-year middle hitter Nikki Sindy and second-year outside hitter Kerry Dornfeld, Kendall has helped anchor a young, up-and-coming team that’s rejuvenating the sport in Hyde Park. Her overshadowing 6’2’’ frame at the net and 0.95 blocks per game, good for second place in the category, is crucial to the Maroons, who are relying on size and defense to boost their winning percentage.