Taking on the UAA for the final time this season, women’s volleyball will need some strong play from its middle hitters to end the season on a high note.
After nine regular season showdowns with nationally-ranked opponents, the Maroons (4–26) will be no strangers to the level of competition served up on Carnegie Mellon’s courts in Pittsburgh this weekend. The squad begins pool play early today against 13th-ranked Emory (23–9). After squaring off with the Eagles, Chicago moves on to 19th-ranked NYU (29–4) before taking the court against Brandeis (17–14) to end the day’s action.
“It’s a hard playing situation. For any team in the country, no one plays three matches in one day,” head coach Dorinda von Tersch said. “The biggest concern with any team, with your big hitters, you have to manage how many swings they’re taking in a day. The other issue is recovery.”
Along with the daunting task posed by some of the nation’s toughest teams, the South Siders will be hit with an overwhelming fatigue factor as they cram five matches into two days. These long days of volleyball could cause particular problems for a Chicago squad that has had trouble maintaining mental focus to pin down opponents, something that has cost them in decisive games all year. Continuing to make unforced errors, the surrender-free points will only wear down the starters and hinder the valuable recuperation time between matches.
“We’re asking our core players—our core starters—to potentially play six and a half, seven hours of volleyball in one day. Then they have to turn around and do it again another five hours the next day,” von Tersch said. “There’s no other sport that asks an athlete to perform at that level.”
This stamina test on the courts puts everyone at the same disadvantage as coaches juggle lineups and push players into new positions to try to preserve arms and give their core players some much needed rest. For the Maroons, this will mean keeping the outside hitters, first-year Diandra Bucciarelli and second-years Katie Volzer and Katie Given, off the backcourt rotation to keep their swings strong up at the net. It also puts the pressure on the middle hitters to step up their game a notch and pick up some of the slack with quality minutes.
“The middle hitters are key. They need to be on, and we could score a lot of points,” von Tersch said. “Traditionally, we will have the outside hitters play all the way around, but going in this weekend, I’m going to have to pull them out of the backcourt and play more defensive players to give those hitters more resting time.”
The intensity and expectations to produce may be raised this weekend for Chicago’s middle hitters, first-year Anika Heavener and third-years Erin O’Neill and Koryn Kendall, but they are certainly capable of accepting the challenge. Kendall packs a punch to the scoreboard with 2.13 kills per game, good for second most on the team behind Bucciarelli’s 2.21, while O’Neill racks up points with the third-highest serving aces per game at 0.24. Although rookie Heavener has been in the thick of things all year, she is still not fully recovered from an injured leg that could hold her back slightly.
More important than the statistics the squad has posted down the stretch, however, is the cranked-up aggression it has shown in practices this past week. The Maroons have everything to play for in Pittsburgh with the league championship closing out the year, and even though powerhouses second-ranked Wash U (28–1) and Emory will most likely battle it out for the title, the rest of the final standings are far from decided at this point.
“The middle of the conference is just so up in the air. When you get to that middle part of the conference, it’s anyone’s game,” von Tersch said. “This is a weekend where the teams that show up mentally are the teams that are going to win it. This is the first year in many when it’s really very vulnerable.”