Volleyball holds own in California ahead of first UAA round robin

| Senior Sports Editor
A volleyball player in a white shirt and black shorts jumps near the right side of a volleyball net, reaching up with both arms to hit a blue and white volleyball.

Caitlin Lorenz jumps to block a shot against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps during a September 2019 game. (Photo by Curran Neenan | Student Life)

The Washington University women’s volleyball team traded the St. Louis humidity for some California sunshine this weekend as they traveled to Cal Lutheran to compete in the annual East to West Battle, a round robin featuring some of the nation’s top teams. In their three matchups, the Bears, who broke into the top 25 nationally earlier this week at No. 18, went 2-1 to bring their record to 6-2 on the season. 

Before the season, senior Abby Li mentioned how the East to West battle would “be really important for us to put it all out there and see what we’re really made of” early in the season. Indeed, the weekend provided the best gauge yet for where the Bears stand among the top teams in the country. Facing stiff competition all weekend, including sixth-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS), the players held their own and flashed glimpses of the elite play they will need to compete for a national qualifier, the team’s long-term goal. 

The weekend was bookended by commanding 3-1 victories over St. Benedict College and Cal Lutheran on Friday and Saturday. Senior Caitlin Lorenz and freshman Jasmine Sells led the respective matches in kills, highlighting two tight, efficient performances for the team on both ends of the ball. Multiple runs of five or more points in both matches demonstrated the momentum that WashU can generate in order to smother opponents. Aside from an occasional error or sloppy mistake, the Bears controlled the narrative in both matches from the jump and executed against teams they knew they could beat. 

While their second match of the weekend against CMS did not fall the Bears’ way, ending in a 3-0 loss, the box score does not capture how competitive the match was. Each of the three sets (25-21, 25-23, 25-22) were tightly contested throughout, and it seemed that, without some key errors late in those sets, the final outcome could easily have looked considerably different. “We were in it [in] all three sets,” Sells said. “I think we just had a couple of lulls and communication errors, but we definitely have the potential to take them.” 

Despite the tough loss, Sells said the match was a valuable learning experience, exposing weak areas that the team will work on before its upcoming slate of University Athletic Association competition. 

Just as important as their performance on the court, however, is the time that the players spend building chemistry. Team bonding, for all WashU teams, is more critical than ever coming off a year in which freshmen were unable to interact meaningfully and assimilate with their squads. With two essentially new classes, time away from volleyball, whether in hotel rooms or on the beach (where the team relaxed on Sunday before returning to St. Louis), proves just as relevant to the team’s long-term success. “I think traveling also kind of brings the team together a little bit, just getting used to each other and getting to know each other a little bit more,” Sells said. “I think it’s all coming together.”

The team initially had a quick turnaround upon arriving home, with a matchup Wednesday against Webster University before the first round of UAA competition, but that match was canceled Tuesday. For a young team with much to prove after a year without competition, the team looks to build on the positive performances from this weekend, tighten up their errors and prepare for three critical matches over the weekend against the University of Rochester, New York University and the University of Chicago.

More on WashU volleyball from StudLife sports:

The story behind Teri Clemens and WU’s first national championship

Athlete of the Week: Volleyball senior Kirby Knapp on getting up after the sun and a fall without round robins

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