This post was written by contributing sports editor Sean Hurd.
In an interview Friday with women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Ault, she said that for her team to succeed in Atlantic 10 play there must be a combination of trust, communication, and aggressive play.
After dropping their A-10 opener in straight sets to VCU (27-25,25-21,25-20) and then winning their first conference match of the season in a five set thriller against URI (18-25,25-22, 25-23, 21-25, 15-10) this weekend, one could see Ault may have been missing one key factor from her winning formula: balance.
From the start of the season, it was clear that the Colonials’ attacking front was not going to blow any team out of the water, and instead, multiple hitters would average 10-plus kills each. In fact, through their first 16 matches of the season, multiple players have recorded 10-plus kills only seven times. The Colonials have found their strength on the attacking end, through the ability to get everyone involved.
“Everybody is important,” Ault said. “We need to be balanced with what we are doing, and we cannot rely on solely one person to take care of things for us, because we are going to be too much for the other team when we are balanced.”
For the most part, GW has been able to compensate for their lack of offensive dominance with a strong presence blocking on the pin and tallying digs. As of Oct. 6, freshman middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu ranked seventh in the A-10 conference in blocks per set at 1.10, and first in the A-10 with 19 solo blocks. On the backline, sophomore libero Maddy Doyle is second in the A-10 with 4.48 digs per set.
When the Colonials fail to have both sides of their game show up, they ultimately struggle to stay in contention.
Against VCU (15-4, 4-0) on Friday, GW was unable to record a single block until the middle of the second set, allowing the Rams to hit .406 and .306 with just six total attack errors in the match’s opening sets.
“I think we were having a little bit of trouble defensively,” Ault said. “The VCU attackers are very strong, they see the block extremely well. They’re not someone who goes up and swings wildly just to swing, they see what’s open and they use that to their advantage.”
In spite of their ability to keep the sets close, nine service errors and 22 attack errors would lead to a straight-set loss to the Rams, the Colonials’ fourth straight defeat.
Despite the loss, Ault believes that with the right adjustments her team will be ready for the Rams when they travel to the Smith Center next Saturday for what will be the teams’ second match in eight days.
“VCU is a good team and they have some attackers that are hard to stop, but I don’t think they are someone we have to shy away from or that we can’t handle,” she said.
On Sunday, a balanced GW squad took the floor against a URI (9-9, 2-2) team that entered the match with two conference wins already under their belt.
The Colonials struggled in the first set, unable to solidify their serve and pass game, which Ault believes, caused the team issues when trying to find a rhythm on the floor.
“The serve and pass game is extremely important in volleyball,” Ault said. “I think we struggled with that in set one, especially with our passing. We weren’t able to do what we needed to do. We tightened that up a bit as the match went on and so it certainly helped. It helps with our momentum but also with taking them out of the options that they have.”
GW was able to bounce back thanks to the across-the-board offense that the Colonials have relied on. Five Colonials’ players tallied at least seven kills with the top two achievers being Osuchwuku, who had 13 kills on just a single attack error, and Rachael Goss, who hit .250 with 11 kills of her own.
Four GW players reached double digits in digs, with freshman setter Emily Clemens and Doyle leading the way for the team with 15 and 19 digs, respectively. Clemens also tallied 43 assists in the five-set match.
On the blocking end, three Colonials recorded at least six block assists, with senior outside hitter Landon Garvik and junior middle blocker Gabrial Rushton tallying 11 and nine block assists, aiding in the 15 total blocks the team had in Sunday’s match.
With the team clicking on all ends, the Colonials were able to pull out a victory in five sets, finishing the weekend road trip at 1-1 – exactly where Ault wants her team to be heading home for a weekend double header.
“You’re going to need to take care of the matches at home and steal a couple of matches on the road,” Ault said. “I like the way that we’re coming in 15 strong, everybody is important.”
The Colonials will look to record their first win streak of the season when they take on La Salle on Friday at 7 p.m. in the Smith Center.