Bears split final matches to finish 2nd in classic

| Sports Reporter

Sophomore Kristen Thomas goes up for a block in a match against Millikin University. The Bears won 3-0 on Friday night. (Paul Goedeke | Student Life)

The Washington University volleyball team’s hot start came to a halt on Saturday, as the Bears split a pair of matches en route to a second place finish in the 2009 Bears Classic.

After Friday’s sweeps of Webster University and Millikin University, the team suffered its first loss of the year to Hope College (25-23, 25-20, 18-25, 25-23) Saturday morning. The Bears rebounded in the afternoon with a quick defeat of Augustana College (25-9, 25-17, 25-18) to finish with a 3-1 record for the tournament.

“It’s disappointing at the moment, but I think it’ll be good experience for us to have that loss and to know what we need to do in the future to prevent a loss like that again,” senior captain Laura Brazeal said.

Click here to see a slide show of the 2009 Bears Classic

No. 22 Hope, which entered the game as the tournament’s only other nationally ranked team, took control of the match early by winning the first two sets. Both sets were neck and neck, with the first set being knotted at 23 and the second at 20, but Hope grabbed the final points in both.

The Bears had a much stronger third set, holding on to an early lead and winning 25-18. In the fourth set, the Bears rallied to tie the score once again at 23 after falling behind early. Nevertheless, Hope ended the match by taking the final two points, winning the match at three sets to one.

Sophomore Kristen Thomas led the team with a career-high 19 kills in the match, while freshman Meg Buker had 23 assists.

Head coach Rich Luenemann knew what was wrong with his team in the first match. “We didn’t block well,” Luenemann said. “We need to block much better than we did.”

Back on the court a few hours later, the Bears made short work of Augustana by pulling away quickly in all three sets and keeping the visiting Vikings from putting together any runs. Sophomore Erin Kasson led with 24 kills, while senior captain Erin Albers had a walloping .818 hitting percentage.

The team was happy to rebound after tasting defeat for the first time all year.

“It feels really good,” Brazeal said. “It’s nice to know that we can still bounce back, and I think that’ll help us a lot later in the season.”

Despite losing one of their matches on Saturday, the Bears’ biggest loss of the weekend may have not even been on the scoreboard.

Senior setter Vicki Blood, who has been hampered by a dislocated shoulder since practices began, was limited in the first match and sat out the second match entirely. Blood will remain out indefinitely.

“It was devastating to lose Vicki, who’s probably one of the best setters in Division III,” Luenemann said.

Fortunately, Buker and fellow freshman Marilee Fisher have stepped in for Blood and have performed admirably, though Luenemann said she knows they’re still developing.

“Both are outstanding setters,” Luenemann said. “They have to know how to run things, and they’re both growing into the process of running the offense.”

“It’s definitely a challenge,” Fisher said when asked about the responsibility of replacing someone like Blood. “It’s really intense, but it’s been fun. Meg’s handled it really well, and I think I’ve been all right.”

Fisher and Buker will look to continue improving, while the Bears will seek to improve on their 5-1 record at the WU/Asics Invitational this weekend at the Field House.

The Red and Green face preseason No. 6 Ohio Northern University and No. 13 Pacific Lutheran University on Friday. Ohio Northern ended Washington University’s NCAA tournament run last season. The Bears also face No. 17 Concordia University and No. 15 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Saturday.