Prior to last weekend’s Midwest Challenge, the women’s volleyball team had only played five sets once in 19 games this season. However, the competition was even and fierce. In three of four contests, No. 15 Chicago (16–5, 3–0 UAA) played through the fifth set.
The Maroons went 2–2 at the tournament. They came out on top in both of their matches on Friday, but lost twice against tougher competition on Saturday.
Chicago started the weekend against Heidelberg University (11–11). Even though Heidelberg dominated the first set, winning by a score of 25–12, the South Siders were unperturbed. They came back to win the next two sets 25–17 and 25–18. The Student Princes didn’t give up though, winning the fourth set 25–18. In the final tiebreaker, the Maroons won by three points, 15–12, to secure the victory.
The next match against Bethany College (19–7) was remarkably similar. The teams battled back and forth through five sets. Chicago lost the first set by only two points, 25–23, but came back to take the next two 25–19 and 25–22 before dropping the fourth by five points, 25–20. Both teams looked like they could win the deciding set, but the Maroons stole the match with a 15–13 victory.
Fourth-year setter Nikki DelZenero posted a season-high 51 assists against Heidelberg, only to shatter that with a remarkable 58 assists in the five sets versus Bethany later in the day. Second-year outside hitter Maren Loe led the team with 20 kills in both matches.
Head coach Vanessa Walby was impressed by everyone who played over the course of the weekend, regardless of the numbers they put up. “No matter who we put on the floor, they made immediate impacts and made the level of play rise,” she said.
The first match on Saturday looked like it could go the same way as the previous two games. Clarkson University (19–6) dragged the South Siders through five sets, and neither team went down easily. After Chicago won an arduous first set 28–26, the Golden Knights won the next two 25–15 and 25–18. The Maroons came back to seize a 25–19 victory in the fourth set but Clarkson took the match in the fifth set, 15–8.
After its first loss since September 21, the team reflected on what had changed. “Our mentality was not as tough and aggressive as it has been in the past. We shouldn’t have let any of our five-set matches go that far,” Loe said.
Later that afternoon, against No. 1 Calvin College (22–0), the Maroons did not fare well. They lost in straight sets against the Knights, 25–11, 25–12, 25–16. “Calvin is a very strong team…with many returning players,” Loe said.
However, Walby isn’t going to dwell on Chicago’s losses. “We knew that this weekend was going to be a tough weekend of play,” she said.
Winning two out of four games this weekend is not an unimpressive feat considering the tough, out-of-conference opponents they were up against, and the Maroons are viewing the games as a learning experience.
“We now have experience playing against a large, fast team,” Loe said.
The South Siders will try to take what they’ve learned this weekend into their next games this upcoming Saturday against Emory and NYU in the second UAA Round Robin tournament of the season.