Volleyball ousted from NCAA Tournament second round after 3-1 loss to No. 11 Illinois Wesleyan

| Senior Sports Editor

The Washington University volleyball team’s season came to a close Saturday afternoon in Chicago’s Ratner Center, as the Bears fell 3-1 to No. 11 Illinois Wesleyan University in the NCAA Tournament second round.

Senior outside hitter Ifeoma Ufondu goes up for a kill against Millikin University. The No. 13 ranked Washington University volleyball team fell 3-1 to No. 11 ranked Illinois Wesleyan University Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament in Chicago, ending their post-season run in the playoffs.Isabella Neubauer | Student Life

Senior outside hitter Ifeoma Ufondu goes up for a kill against Millikin University. The No. 13 ranked Washington University volleyball team fell 3-1 to No. 11 ranked Illinois Wesleyan University Saturday in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament in Chicago, ending their post-season run in the playoffs.

Wash. U. had an opportunity to draw first blood, taking the largest lead of the opening set, 14-10. The Titans worked their way back into contention, going on a run to take a 20-19 lead. The Red and Green countered immediately, however, winning four of the next five points to regain a late 23-21 advantage. The Bears were in position to bank the first set of what looked to be a tight contest between Division III’s No. 11 and No. 13 programs.

Illinois Wesleyan’s Tyler Brown took matters into her own hands to level the score, killing the next two points. Another IWU kill, and suddenly it was Wash. U. on the periphery of letting the first set slip away. Senior middle hitter Julianne Malek saved the Bears initially, with a kill of her own to knot it up at 24. But a service error by senior defensive specialist Natalie Stephanus put the Bears back on edge, and a Malek attack error sealed the opener in the Titans’ favor.

The IWU momentum swept into the second set, when Wash. U. never led again after the first point. The Titans took as much as five points of separation, wrapping up the set with ease, 25-21, while pushing Wash. U.’s 2018 season to its last breath.

The third set looked to feature more of the same back-and-forth that the earlier two offered, Brown delivering back-to-back kills again to make it 8-8 early. But in desperate moments, teams turn to their best players: After a Stephanus ace, the Bears ran off five straight points on Malek’s serve, leveraging the extended lead into the biggest mismatch of the day, a 25-18 third-set win.

The Titans, aiming to execute the fourth set rather than allow the Red and Green to charge into a pivotal fifth with all the momentum, broke out early with a 5-2 lead. But again, the Bears turned to their star: After recovering serve, Malek ripped off another five consecutive points to give her team an 8-5 foothold on the fourth. Illinois Wesleyan had no intention of going quietly, though, going on an extended run to take a 20-15 lead and put the Bears on thin ice.

Another back-and-forth made it 24-19, but at this point, the Red and Green could not afford to trade one for one. Needing to save five match points to save their season, the Bears came up clutch. An attack error by their antagonist Brown gave the Bears the ball back, which they handed to junior defensive specialist Zoe Baxter. An IWU bad set and three straight Titan attack errors later, it was 24-24, and Wash. U. had new life.

But like the first 24-24 affair, it was not meant to be. An attack error by Malek and another by senior outside hitter Ifeoma Ufondu sealed the Bears’ fate.

The 62 IWU kills, 18 by Brown alone, were the most allowed by Wash. U. since the second match of the season against Berry College, when the Bears allowed 65. That ultra-effectiveness by the Titans’ offense, ultimately, was the difference in a tense match that sent the Bears home until next fall.

The Bears had beaten Cornell College 3-0 Friday in the first round to advance. Wash. U. enters a tumultuous offseason that will see Malek, Ufondu and Stephanus all graduate.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening as Washington University returns to campus.

Subscribe