Volleyball keeps record spotless through second weekend
In Wash. U.’s first match against No. 12 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater (25-21, 27-25, 25-23), the absence of junior defensive specialist Tanya Marvi troubled the Bears’ back line and kept Whitewater firmly within striking distance.
“We had a few faux pas, no doubt about that,” head coach Rich Luenemann said. “A breakdown in our passing and our defensive game…was a little disappointing.”
Later that night, the Bears dropped their first set of the season against No. 11 Elmhurst College but won overall: 25-18, 25-23, 23-25, 25-14. Wash. U. responded to the lost set by dominating the Blue Jays with a lopsided score in the decisive fourth set.
“[Losing a set] pissed us off,” senior Marilee Fisher admitted. “It definitely fired us up.”
Saturday’s matches proved to be less dramatic. Against No. 23 Otterbein University, who had not yet lost in the tournament, the Bears won convincingly by scores of 25-18, 25-18, 25-19. To cap off the tournament, they won in a similarly dominant fashion over No. 24 Concordia University (25-12, 25-17, 25-22).
“I think [the wins] show that we can stay composed during tough times and can still execute really well even when we’re up against tougher competition. I think it shows a lot of poise,” Fisher remarked.
That poise was evident in junior Emily Tulloch’s critical play in the match against Wisconsin-Whitewater. With Wash. U. leading the first set by a tenuous margin of 21-20, Luenemann altered the normal rotational pattern and left Tulloch, a middle hitter, to serve and play back-line defense, a task she is not normally asked to do during games.
Tulloch responded by serving for three winning points, finally losing on a side-out and departing for a defensive specialist with the Bears firmly in the lead, 24-21. On the next point, a dual block by freshmen Jackie Nelligan and Allison Zastrow captured the first set for the home team.
A similar situation emerged in the next set, a back-and-forth affair in which the Bears squandered one set point of their own. Down 25-24, junior Meghan Byrne made a crucial spike to tie the score. Tulloch was brought back to the service line, finishing the set with an ace and giving Wash. U. a commanding two-set lead.
“We didn’t have any reservations at all about letting her stay in and serve,” Luenemann said. “We felt as though at that time we needed a stronger server and because she’s shown in practice that she is a strong server; she definitely came through.”
“Serving under pressure is a big thing we’ve been focusing on this season…I just have to take a deep breath and not think about [the situation], just think about where I’m serving, and nothing goes through my head,” Tulloch said.
Tulloch continued to serve throughout the tournament, ending the weekend with five aces and several key service runs.
“It was a really fun opportunity to be able to do a different sort of skill than…I’m used to doing,” she said.
All-Americans Byrne and Drew Hargrave both were selected to the all-tournament team after combining for a whopping 104 kills over the four-game set. They were joined by senior Kelly Pang, who collected her 2000th career dig in the match against Otterbein. In addition to the dominant attacks of these outside hitters, the Bears received valuable contributions from middle hitters Tulloch and Nelligan.
Nelligan impressed her teammates as her freshman campaign continued, improving her level of play in each of the four games. She set career highs with nine kills and a .562 hitting percentage against Concordia.
“Finally getting strong kills is what…gave me the confidence to start being a bigger part of the offense, and I was just happy that I was finally playing the way that I knew I could play,” Nelligan said. “It’s really important when you’re playing teams that have a good defense and have a strong block that you’re able to run all of your different plays to take them out of system…We need to have a diverse offense.”
That diversity is a factor that both players and coaches alike strive to achieve.
“If you ever become a team that’s incredibly one-dimensional, then what happens is if you come up against a set of blockers who can shut an attacker down…then you don’t have any other options,” Luenemann said. “Everybody’s an integral part of the offense.”
This coming weekend, Wash. U. will need all attacking players to perform at their best abilities and “make the correct choices when they attack,” Luenemann said, in order to sustain the multifaceted offensive approach and confuse defenders.
In their first road trip of the season, the difficulty level will rise again for the Bears, as they battle a loaded tournament field that includes three of the top eight teams in the country: No. 3 Calvin, No. 5 Wittenberg and No. 8 Hope.
“It’s very possible that this tournament…could be stronger than the Final Four because of the quality of teams out there. This could be better competition than the Final Four would be in November,” Luenemann said.