Volleyball suffers narrow loss, earns narrow victories in East to West Battle

| Senior Sports Editor

California Lutheran University had just fought back from seven points down to tie the set at 25-25. As Cal Lutheran’s Mackenzie Martinez stepped back to serve and the Regals poised themselves to take the lead and pull away in the match, 2-0, the Bears could have given up, but they refused to acquiesce. The Washington University volleyball team stood tall, forcing a Cal Lutheran shot wide left to regain the serve, 26-25, before junior Tricia Brown smashed a spike, stunning the Regals and securing the set victory for Wash. U.

The Red and Green trailed for just six points the rest of the day, winning the last two sets handily to secure the match victory, finish the annual East to West Battle 2-1 and improve to 9-4 on the season.

Curran Neenan | Student Life

The volleyball team celebrates winning a point against No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Friday night. Wash. U. lost a tight match to CMS before coming back to win two games on Saturday against No. 11 Trinity University, 3-2, and California Lutheran University, 3-1.

The tournament had begun the night before, when the Bears fell in four sets to No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, 3-1. Each of the first three sets went to extra points, and the Bears, who came into the weekend unranked, kept pace with the Athenas throughout, losing the three sets by just a combined nine points.

The Bears rebounded in their early game Saturday with a 3-2 comeback victory over No. 11 Trinity University. After falling behind 2-1 in three tight sets, the Red and Green stormed back in the final two sets, with sophomore Caitlin Lorenz slamming a kill at 24-21 to wrap the fourth set before Wash. U. silenced Trinity, 15-11, in the fifth.

“For us it’s more of a confidence booster,” head coach Vanessa Walby said after the game about the significance of beating a ranked opponent. “Us being able to play as competitive with some of these teams—I think it’s going to help us for conference next week and later on in the season.”

In the afternoon match against Cal Lutheran, Wash. U. fell behind early once again. Attack errors on the first two points put the Bears in a hole that they could not climb out of in the first set, as the Regals cruised to a 25-16 set victory. The Bears maintained a positive outlook throughout, however, cheering loudly from the sideline even after faltering in the first set. That optimism paid off in the second set when the Bears jumped out to an early lead, taking advantage of junior Kirby Knapp’s effective serve to set the tone for the new period. They cruised until 19-12, when Cal Lutheran came crawling back with a 7-2 run and tightened the score for a back-and-forth end to the set. When Brown’s spike bounced and then rolled across the floor and the Bears had won, 27-25, a sigh of relief fell over the crowd at the Field House.

“It’s just staying calm and trusting that the player behind you is going to get that dig and then the set is going to be great,” senior Leila King said after the game when asked about her thought process at the heated end of the second set. “Keeping your composure is really about team chemistry and since we’re so close, we can really just come together and make eye contact and communicate a lot.”

That composure was crucial for the Bears in the tight matches all weekend. Walby emphasized the role that the players’ mindset plays in close sets. “For our girls it is really their mentality and their choice of if they are going to dig deep or just roll over,” she said.

After securing the second set against Cal Lutheran, the Bears dominated the final two sets, winning 25-15 and 25-17 in the third and fourth sets, respectively. They were able to keep a quick tempo, something Walby has focused on throughout the early season, and played solid defense to keep Cal Lutheran from controlling the serve. “The girls were on a mission to protect their home court,” Walby said.

While Brown’s emphatic, winning kill in the second set against Cal Lutheran was emblematic of her success throughout the weekend—she led the Bears in kills in each of the weekend’s three games, with 14 against CMS, 17 in the Trinity game and 16 versus Cal Lutheran—a key for Wash. U. was its ability to spread the ball to various attackers. At least three players hit double digits in kills in each game, with players like King, who was an All-Tournament honoree, totaling more than 35 kills on the weekend.

On the defensive side, senior libero Zoe Baxter held down the fort for the Bears. She secured 25 digs against Trinity and 23 versus Cal Lutheran, a match high in each.

The Bears head to Massachusetts next weekend for the first of three University Athletic Association Round Robins. They will take on Case Western Reserve University, New York University and University of Chicago, three teams that have gotten better in recent years, according to Walby. “It’s going to be competitive. We’ve got a short amount of time and we need to recover our bodies a little bit,” she said. “This weekend helped to prepare our mentality and our physicality, but they’ll be tough matches. For us, it is just going to be a matter of staying disciplined, sticking to our game plan and keep working together as a group.”

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