Volleyball comes back, collapses to No. 2 Calvin

Benjamin Simon | Contributing Reporter

A year after being dismantled by Calvin College in the NCAA championship, the Washington University volleyball team found the No. 2 Knights dominating them again, two sets to none in this season’s first round. Remarkably, the Bears managed to muster a ferocious comeback, storming to a 14-10 match point in the decisive fifth set. Six points later, their season was over, the roller coaster coming to a screeching, unsatisfying halt.

A day after seizing the UAA title, the Red and Green could relax during the selection show. With an automatic bid secured, they knew their name would be called. The only question was who they would be playing. They drew the 26-3 Knights, who handed the Bears their only playoff loss in 2016. It was undoubtedly a tough matchup as Calvin would present the biggest challenge of the season.

Junior Ifeoma Ufondu spikes the ball in the bears’ game against Greenville at a match played  in October. With a late  loss to No. 2 Calvin College this weekend, the Bears ended their season to the Knights, the same team that knocked volleyball out of the playoff picture in 2016.Zachary Berman | Student Life

Junior Ifeoma Ufondu spikes the ball in the bears’ game against Greenville at a match played in October. With a late loss to No. 2 Calvin College this weekend, the Bears ended their season to the Knights, the same team that knocked volleyball out of the playoff picture in 2016.

“They are fantastic servers, and they block pretty well,” head coach Vanessa Walby said of the team with 10 players 6 feet or taller. “They also have a lot of experience and are well coached.”

Coming into the game, Walby knew that they would have to follow the game plan in order to win. They were going to have to “serve aggressively, work shots to make them move on defense and compete together as one unit,” she said.

In last year’s championship game, the Bears were outmatched by Calvin, losing 3-0. The Bears got off to the same rough start, as they fell behind early, losing the first two sets 25-16 and 25-15, respectively. It looked as if the result may be the same this year once again. This year, however, they didn’t let the score phase them.

“When you’re already down two sets, there’s nothing to lose,” junior Julianne Malek said in a press conference after the game. “You might as well just go out and do what you know you can do and give it your all.”

The Bears rallied, winning the next two sets 25-20 and 25-23, respectively. All of a sudden, it was tied up 2-2, and the opportunity to make another run at a national championship seemed right within their grasps once again.

“Our players battled and worked well together to make the comeback they had,” Walby said. “It is hard to come back from an 0-2 deficit against any team, let alone a team like Calvin. You really have to come together as a group and outwork your opponent. The girls made that choice together as a group. I am extremely proud of them.”

But in the final frame, it was Calvin who fought back, taking a tightly contested fifth set that changed leads four times. The Bears relinquished leads of 4-0 and 7-4 but bounced back each time to set themselves up with four straight match points at 14-10. The Knights reeled off six straight points—including three on Wash. U. errors. This time, the Bears couldn’t stop the bleeding; Calvin walked away with a 3-2 win, squashing Wash. U.’s bid for another shot at the banner.

hts outlasted the Bears thanks in large part to their serving. While Wash. U notched only three aces all day, Calvin finished with 16.

“Calvin has great servers, and that’s kind of what we struggled with last year in the national championship,” Walby said in the press conference. “Their ball moves around quite a bit and I think it took us a little bit to figure out how to pass that ball.”

Calvin additionally had four players with double digits kills—junior Anna Kamp led the way with 18.

For Wash. U., Malek ended with 15 kills for the Bears and a game high hitting percentage of .480. Freshman Kirby Knapp finished the match with 22 assists, highest on the team, while sophomore Zoe Baxter tallied a game high 33 digs. Despite the valiant effort, a first round exit is tough for a team coming off four straight wins and a UAA championship.

“They were disappointed but were happy they picked things up and battled,” Coach Walby said of the atmosphere in the locker room after the game. “There’s nothing I can say at that point to take the sting away, and there should be a sting. We missed an opportunity. But that doesn’t take away from the effort we made that day, and I am proud of how they bounced back.”

The Bears will only lose one senior in Lauren Fournier, and they will bring back the rest of their 2017 squad next year in hope for another UAA and NCAA championship run.