Volleyball caught by surprise in upset loss to No. 18 Chicago
Washington University’s ninth-ranked volleyball team fell to 2-5 against ranked opponents this season by dropping a conference bout against No. 18 University of Chicago at the University Athletic Association Round Robin #1 in Cleveland, Ohio. After sweeping Rochester and Brandeis Universities on Friday, the Bears faced their first serious competition of the weekend Saturday and lost in four sets to Chicago (25-14, 22-25, 25-18, 25-22).
The Red and Green continued their run of poor first-set showings, falling behind quickly and allowing Chicago to run off lengthy stretches of points in the 25-14 opener. The Bears knotted the match at one set apiece, but the Maroons never trailed in a dominant third set in which they led by double-digits at times. The fourth set was more of the same—Chicago never trailed, and though Wash. U. pulled within one point at 20-21, the Maroons capitalized on two late service errors to complete the upset.
Through 2011, Wash. U. was 35-0 all-time against Chicago, but the Maroons have won two of their last four against the Bears.
Players attributed this loss partly to being unable to adjust effectively to Chicago’s potent attack after playing two of the traditionally weaker squads in the UAA. The Bears never trailed by more than one point in any of the six sets against Rochester and Brandeis, and Wash. U. posted its sixth- and second-best hitting percentages of the season, respectively.
Conversely, both Rochester and Brandeis tallied more errors than kills, hitting -.011 and -.143, respectively; the Bears had also held their previous opponent, Greenville College, to a sub-zero mark. Chicago’s offense, which posted a .261 percentage, served as a wake-up call for the Bears to play up to their opponent’s level.
“Obviously, Chicago is the better offensive team,” sophomore middle hitter Jackie Nelligan said. “They’re bigger and they’re more physical, and you can try and mentally prepare for that, but I’m sure it was sort of a bit of a shock to be playing a team again that has a good offense…of course, we have been playing teams that are below our level.”
One positive trend that continued this weekend is the effectiveness of the Bears’ middle hitters; Nelligan and freshman Caroline Dupont combined for 29 kills against Chicago after excelling with 19 kills on a .630 hitting percentage against Brandeis. Dupont added 12 blocks in the two matches Friday, while Nelligan tallied four against Chicago.
“It’s just the nature of middles to have higher hitting percentages,” Nelligan explained, “and I think this year, one of our focuses is trying to push the middles as long as they’re working, and I think we’ve been doing a good job of that. Our passing and our serve receive is usually good enough that we can push our middles, which has been really effective.”
With the loss to Chicago, the Bears will likely drop outside the top 10 in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national poll for the first time since September 1999.
“We’re a young team, and we do play with a lot of inconsistency,” Nelligan said, “so right now, we’re just trying to overcome that and focus on making the plays that we know we can make, playing with confidence and playing with consistency. I mean, we’ve been up and down on that.”
With ranked opponents on the docket each of the next two weeks—No. 17 University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on Oct. 11 and No. 4 Emory University on Oct. 20—the Bears cannot afford to stay consistently inconsistent if they want to regain a top national ranking.