Volleyball wins tournament to improve to 8-0
Chancellor Mark Wrighton was in attendance at a reunion event on campus Saturday when he learned that Washington University’s seventh-ranked volleyball team had tied its match against No. 21 Pacific Lutheran University at two sets apiece. He rushed to the Athletic Complex in time for the start of the decisive fifth set and became an unwitting good luck charm for the Bears, who played their best set of the season to complete the comeback.
With strong all-around play from hitters and defenders alike—and potentially a little motivation boost from the University’s leader—Wash. U. was the victor of the WU/ASICS National Invitational tournament, beating Ohio Northern University Friday (25-15, 25-18, 25-21) and Wittenberg University Saturday (25-13, 25-20, 21-25, 25-13) to go along with the five-set defeat of PLU (25-20, 21-25, 20-25, 25-22, 15-4).
The matchup against No. 3 Wittenberg was supposed to serve as the weekend’s main attraction, but the Bears came closest to losing against PLU. After squandering a one-set lead by losing sets two and three, though, the Red and Green won a tight fourth set and dominated the fifth to maintain their undefeated record (8-0). The match was the Bears’ first five-setter in the Field House since their playoff loss in 2011 and the first such occurrence in the regular season since September 2009.
After freshman Alex Sheredy closed the fourth set with a kill, Wash. U. opened the fifth set with four more, and the rattled Lutes committed errors on six of the next seven points as the Red and Green gained an 11-0 advantage. The Bears relied on a well-rounded attack to best PLU: five players had double-digit kills, led by freshman middle hitter Caroline Dupont’s 18 (on a .593 hitting percentage). In the final set, Wash. U. hit a blistering .562 while Lutheran struggled to a -.100 mark.
“Our middles in general were pretty unstoppable,” head coach Luke Young said. “We kind of got them out of system—that was our goal, was to get them to push balls to their pins, to keep the ball kind of spread out.”
Dupont explained that the hitters this weekend had success finding openings in the opponents’ back line and that she used “deep angles” when attacking.
This tactic proved effective against Wittenberg as well. Dupont again led the Red and Green in hitting against the Tigers, tallying 17 kills and no attack errors en route to a .586 hitting percentage, and Sheredy added 14 kills and 16 digs to secure her third straight double-double. For the match, Wash. U. hit .329 and held Wittenberg to a .110 percentage—.056 for players besides All-American Kara Seidenstricker.
“I think being freshmen helps them when they don’t have an understanding of what they’re doing right now,” Young noted of the stellar play of Wash. U.’s youngest contributors, adding that their approach is “kind of a refreshing thing because they haven’t sat for a year on the bench and paid attention to, like, ‘Oh, there are some big arms across the net.’ They are just kind of recognizing that they are big arms.”
Moreover, as the Bears continue to develop familiarity with the team’s new perimeter defense system, holding a team as talented as Wittenberg to such a paltry offensive output bodes well for next week’s tournament, when the Bears play No. 2 Calvin College and No. 5 Hope College.
“They’re learning a new system, and they don’t look new to it on the court,” Young praised.
One area for improvement that Young identified is communication on balls that fall between two defenders.
“There’s a lot of balls that are one step away from somebody, and we’re recognizing those situations as opportunities for transition…it’s just figuring out balls that aren’t right in somebody’s lap and getting it up to a setter,” he said.
Wash. U. also held Lutheran to a .146 percentage and Ohio Northern to a .109 mark, meaning no opponent has yet to hit even .150 against the new defensive system.
And although the Bears are ranked lower than both Calvin and Hope, Dupont said that defeating Wittenberg gives the team confidence heading into next weekend’s competitive clashes.
“It proves that rankings are a number, and ultimately they don’t matter,” she said. “We can beat any team that we play.”