Depth helps volleyball dominate tournament
All but one player of the Washington University women’s volleyball team got on the court over the weekend tournament that continued the team’s No. 1 reign in Division III.
And if this weekend’s Bears Classic was any indication, Wash. U.’s second team isn’t far behind its first.
“One of the reasons we’re good,” head coach Rich Luenemann said, “is because in practice, the second team pushes the first team so very much. Our practices are more intense than any of the matches you saw this weekend.”
The backups lived up to this praise—every player on the roster besides junior Meghan Byrne, who sat out to nurse a knee injury, saw playing time during the tournament.
“We had the opportunity to let everybody have significant court time,” Luenemann said. “When you have a chance to play in a tournament like this, when you’re not playing a Wittenberg or you’re not playing a Calvin or you’re not playing a Hope, it’s an opportunity for everybody else to step in and show what they can do.”
“It’s a testament to our depth,” he continued, “a testament to our quality of players.”
Wash. U. swept through the weekend with ease and emerged with the tournament trophy. On Friday, the Bears hit over .400 in both of their matches en route to defeating Knox College 25-9, 25-7, 25-12 and Central College 25-12, 25-18, 25-12.
The Bears recorded an impressive 20 aces against Knox, including eight by freshman Cassie Wang in a 10-point run to open the third set. Senior Drew Hargrave led Wash. U. with eight kills versus Knox while freshman Nkiru Udenze, filling in for Byrne, scored a career-high 12 kills against Central to lead the Bears.
During the match against Central, Wash. U. hosted “Dig for Pink,” a breast cancer awareness event and fundraiser for the Siteman Cancer Center. The official attendance for the match was 410 people, and the lower bleachers were filled with parents and students alike donning pink shirts and cheering.
“I’m ecstatic,” sophomore Lindsay Juriga, who planned the event, gushed. “I thought it was a fantastic turnout and I think a lot of people came out and showed support for a great cause…I plan to do it [again] next year.”
On Saturday, the Red and Green again won both matches handily, defeating Monmouth College 25-11, 25-18, 25-15 and Westminster College 25-14, 25-19, 25-19.
Hargrave paced the Bears with seven kills in the first set against Monmouth before the second team entered and still dominated the opposing Fighting Scots. Similarly, freshman Allison Zastrow registered seven kills in the first set versus Westminster; in total, 13 Bears recorded kills as the bench emptied.
“The depth is incredible,” Wang said. “For us to be able to stick everyone on the bench—at one point everyone that had a surgery last year was on the court—and we just demolished the other team. It’s insane, the talent on this team is unlike anything I have ever played with…and this is the first time we’ve really played to our potential.”
Fittingly, the team’s winning point against Westminster in the last match of the tournament came on a kill by sophomore Maddy Morris, one of those players returning from surgery.
The coaching staff also looks to the future when finding playing time for the backups. “We’re going to be devastated by graduation,” Luenemann admitted.
Senior All-Americans Hargrave, Marilee Fisher and Kelly Pang will depart after this season, leaving the Bears with gaping holes at outside hitter, setter and libero, respectively.
Accordingly, the Bears rotated in underclassmen to give them valuable experience in tournament play. Fisher, for instance, played the first set of each of Saturday’s matches before giving way for Wang at the setter position. Wang responded to the playing time by performing well enough—with 73 assists in the four matches—to be voted to the All-Tournament team along with Hargrave, Pang and junior Tanya Marvi.
“It helps me really transfer everything that we’ve been working on in practice, all the reps, into a game situation,” Wang said of her increased court time. “No matter how much you scrimmage and practice, you cannot completely imitate a game situation, like the energy, the competitiveness on the other side…so playing time helps me—finally everything starts clicking that we’ve been doing in practice.”
Lest Fisher fear being Wally Pipped, however, Luenemann noted that next weekend’s matches will have a different atmosphere. “Next week we go more with our starters,” he said. “We kind of focus on those starters and execution, executing at a very high level and continuing to make good choices…not just arbitrarily making a choice but analyzing the opponent and making a good choice.”
The Bears travel to Pittsburgh, Pa. on Oct. 13 for the second conference round-robin, where they will play four matches, including matchups against No. 13 University of Chicago and No. 6 Emory University, the latter of whom the Bears split a pair of five-set battles with last season.