Volleyball picks up three wins in this weekend’s return to Oshkosh

Jon Lewis | Senior Sports Editor

The last time the Washington University volleyball team made the trip up to Oshkosh, Wis., the stakes were slightly higher. That time, in November 2016, the Bears were in the Badger State competing in the final four, where their late season run came to an end in the national title game. This weekend, Wash. U. returned to the site of the 2016 national championship to compete in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh Pizza Hut Classic, a slightly less prestigious competition but still an important slate of early season matches.

The Bears started the weekend with a doubleheader against Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota and host Oshkosh. Wash. U.’s performance against Saint Mary’s was mixed. If one were to look at just the hitting stats from the match, it would appear the Bears had the edge: Wash. U. recorded 12 more kills than their opponents, nine more assists, seven more digs and a higher hitting percentage.

Tricia Brown, Hope CollegeSkyler Kessler | Student Life

Tricia Brown spikes the ball in a Wash. U. home game played against Hope last week. This weekend, the volleyball team picked up three victories in a tournament held at UW-Oskosh.

However, the Bears also committed 12 more total errors than their opponents, and these came back to bite them. Wash. U. and Saint Mary’s traded sets through the first four, with the Bears pulling out a 26-24 victory in the fourth frame to force a fifth. In the decisive set, however, three more Wash. U. errors were all Saint Mary’s needed to win a hotly contested 15-13 battle.

The Bears’ struggles continued into the second game, when Oshkosh dominated the first set with a 25-13 win. With her team down 11-6 in the second, head coach Vanessa Walby called a timeout, and things began to turn around.

“After a start like that, the only place you can go is up,” Walby said, highlighting that the ability to battle through adversity is something she stresses to her team during training.

“We talk about grit a lot in practice, and we are working hard as a group to work with that every day,” she said.

After the timeout the Bears went on a tear, scoring 13 of the next 16 points. Wash. U. took the second set 25-19, but the Titans responded and the Bears once again found themselves in a five-set marathon. This time, however, a 15-13 final set went in favor of Wash. U., and they escaped with a narrow victory over the hosts.

On the second day of the tournament things went a little more smoothly for the Bears, though not without a few obstacles. Against Lawrence University in the first match, Wash. U. once again dropped the first set and, once again, the Bears bounced back in the second set, notching a 25-16 victory.

Unlike in the match against Oshkosh, however, Wash. U. did not let their opponents back into the match. Instead, the Bears fought through a close third set, winning 25-23. There was no looking back from there; Wash. U. was dominant in the fourth, posting a .478 hitting percentage and jumping out to a 25-6 win.

True to the script for the weekend, the Bears dropped the first set one more time in the final match against St. Norbert College. Down 1-0 for the third time in three games, Wash. U. flipped the switch again, totaling 58 kills and a season-high .458 hitting percentage across the match, as they won the next three games. The Bears also cut down on the errors that had plagued them against Saint Mary’s, totaling just nine for the entire match.

“Both [Lawrence and St. Norbert] are great teams and are extremely hardworking programs,” Walby said. “We know we have to come and play every single match.”

The two matches on Saturday also represented milestones for Walby as the head coach of Wash. U.: With the victory against Lawrence, she surpassed 100 wins for her career at the helm of the program. Walby passes the century club in her fourth season in St. Louis, the same pace it took her to reach the landmark as head coach at the University of Chicago, where she piled up 163 wins in six seasons.

For the Bears, these early season matchups represent key opportunities to build team cohesion.

“I think we are starting to get to know each other better and adjust to each other more on the court,” Walby said.

Walby added that in the early season, the time the team spends together off the court and on the bus can be the key to developing as a unit.

“Road trips always seem to help the team bonding,” she said.