October 17, 2006

Volleyball takes step back with winless weekend

This was supposed to be the year when volleyball could put up a fight against formidable foes. After a winless weekend, it seems like the Maroons and the rest of the UAA are still in separate leagues.

Hosting the second UAA Round Robin of the season at Ratner, the Maroons (4–24, 1–6) went down quietly this weekend after posting a 0–4 mark against their league brethren. The squad’s eventual goal of ranking at the same level as the top teams in the UAA is still a ways off as the squad struggled to match the stiff competition served up on the other side of the net.

Things started off promisingly enough for the Maroons in Saturday’s opener. Squaring off against Brandeis (10–12, 2–5), the home team jumped ahead out of the gate to take the lead. They failed to close the door on the Judges, letting their opponents sneak back into the game thanks to some poor execution. The first set slipped away 35–33 and seemed to put Chicago on course for another disappointing showing.

Despite impressive individual performances from its middle hitters, with third-years Koryn Kendall and Erin O’Neill and first-year Anika Heavener combining for 31 kills and 19 blocks, the team once again unraveled in the clutch. The Maroons bounced back from the heartbreaking first set to claim convincing victories of 30–21 and 30–22, only to see Brandeis surge back and take the five-set battle.

From there, the going got even tougher as Chicago took the court against 17th-ranked Emory (17–8, 6–1). The Eagles won the league championship last season after dethroning 17-time title-holder Wash U (23–1, 7–0). Heavener and O’Neill led the squad’s efforts again with the rookie nailing seven kills and O’Neill notching five block assists, but the Eagles swooped down and landed a straight set 30–18, 30–28, 30–23 clobbering to end Chicago’s day.

Returning to action on Sunday, the Maroons were hit hard with another straight set loss, this time to Carnegie Mellon (14–11, 4–3), as the Tartans dealt the home side a 30–20, 30–21, 30–24 blow. Usually strong at blocking, the South Siders actually got tangled up a bit at the net against the Tartans with Kendall pacing the squad with three blocks in the match.

After the meager showing against Carnegie, Chicago started to regain its form for the final contest, a showdown with Rochester (17–8, 2–5) that went the full five sets. Although four Maroons registered double figures with their kills and first-year libero Liz Sugden came up with 22 digs, the squad ultimately could not survive the Yellowjackets’ sting.

Displaying a strong resolve from the first serve, the squad played a tight opening set but took a 30–25 loss. The Maroons then turned into a point-making machine, squashing the Yellowjackets 30–18 in the second set and then 30–10 in the fourth to push the match to a deciding fifth set. With a win only 15 points away, Chicago lacked the finishing touch and fell 15–9 to close out the second round of league play.

When volleyball set out for the 2006 season, building a team that could compete in the UAA and be a national contender was a clear priority. With only one victory against league opponents this year, the Maroons still have a ways to go in climbing the ranks. They’ll get a final chance to prove themselves when the UAA championships start November 3 in Pittsburgh.