Labor Day launch party: Previewing the Bears’ opening weekend

| Senior Sports Editor

While some Washington University students may still be shopping for fall classes, for athletes, exams begin in earnest this weekend. For them, the preseason is over—now, every game counts, win or lose. It all starts this Friday, with 10 Bear sports events through Labor Day. Here’s what fans of the Red and Green can look forward to as the autumn season commences.

Women’s soccer

Jessica Ridderhoff takes on a Principia defender last season. Aaron Brezel | Student Life

  Jessica Ridderhoff takes on a Principia defender last season.

The women’s soccer team’s season starts off with a punch, as the Bears take on No. 22 Loras College in game one Friday afternoon. If the No. 10 Red and Green have championship aspirations, those hopes will be put to the test from the get-go, as the Duhawks likely share that ambition. Loras has gotten progressively better over each of the last few years, rising from a .579 winning percentage in 2014 to .825 a year ago, while winning a game in each of the past two NCAA Tournaments. Coincidentally, the Duhawks have struggled with the same opponents the Bears have in recent years. They’ve been ousted in those two tournaments by University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and Wheaton College—teams that Wash. U. has lost to and drawn, respectively, while playing to an .852 pace over the last two years. The Bears have a fairly harmless schedule after Loras (until playing four ranked teams in five games to end the season), but the Duhawks should provide a thrilling opener.

The Red and Green wrap up the weekend with a Sunday matinee at Augsburg University before their home opener next Friday.

Volleyball

Jessica Ridderhoff takes on a Principia defender last season.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Jessica Ridderhoff takes on a Principia defender last season.

The other 10th-ranked Wash. U. team, the volleyball Bears, kick things off with the Transylvania Invite, beginning with a Friday night match against host Transylvania University. The Bears will also take on No. 25 Berry College and Hope College Saturday while in Lexington, Ky. Wash. U.’s history with each varies. While the Red and Green have never faced Berry, they’ve fared well with Transylvania, winning all six sets in the previous two meetings between the teams. Hope, meanwhile, is something of a distant rival. The Flying Dutch handed the Bears one of their four 2009 losses, but the Bears more than avenged the defeat with a semifinal win before capturing the national title. Since then, Hope has again topped Wash. U. twice, but Wash. U. swept the most recent meeting, 25-20, 25-21, 25-21, in three tight sets in the Field House last year.

It’s an exciting opening trio for the Bears, but only a preview into what follows: a date with No. 13 Illinois Wesleyan University, followed by Wash. U.’s own home tournament, the Bear Invite, the next weekend.

Football

Quarterback Johnny Davidson finds the endzone against Chicago.Grace Bruton

Quarterback Johnny Davidson finds the endzone against Chicago.

The football team may be heading to the College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin, but they get dancing with a familiar UAA partner: the University of Chicago. And even with a rough season in 2017, a familiar theme continued: beating the Maroons. The Bears have now conquered their neighbors from the north three consecutive years, and six in seven. It’s a good opportunity to get the first win under their belts before heading to North Central College to take on the nation’s seventh-ranked squad, who trounced the Bears by 19 last time out. For Bear sports fans, the opening day game comes with some added flair. Before the 6 p.m. kickoff, Student Union is hosting a two-hour Game Day tailgate, the second annual event of its kind.

Men’s soccer

Cole Schmitz moves the ball in midfieldCeCe Heard | Student Life

Cole Schmitz moves the ball in midfield

After dropping a preseason exhibition against Division I St. Louis University, the men’s soccer team officially begins its regular season with a pair of 4:30 p.m. matches in Wheaton, Ill. for the Bob Baptista Invitational, starting Friday. The Bears haven’t had trouble getting off to strong starts—starting off 6-0-1 in each of the last two seasons. But that early momentum hasn’t lasted; in 2017, it fizzled into a 3-4 stretch and first round exit. In 2018, their fate was far worse: The Bears tumbled into a 1-7-1 downfall that drove them right out of the playoff picture. Being hot out of the gate isn’t a bad thing by any means, and the Bears are set up to do it again, not facing a ranked team until September 29. The key, as always, however, will be translating that into playoff success.