#7 volleyball goes undefeated against DIII heavyweights in California

and | Staff Writer & Contributing Reporter

The Washington University volleyball team held its own DIII against powerhouses with statement wins this past weekend in California. (Ginger Schulte | Student Life.)

In a weekend to remember, the Washington University volleyball team left its mark in California. The Bears — who traveled to the Golden State to compete in the East to West Invitational — battled through tough opposition for three impressive victories, including two wins over teams ranked Top 10 in the nation.

“It was a fun weekend for our team and program,” head coach Vanessa Walby wrote to Student Life. “This tournament has been designed to provide some of the best competition in Division 3. It really helps us to grow as a group and see high-level competition before we head into UAA play. It was fun to watch our team battle, enjoy competing, learn from our mistakes, and have fun together as a group.”

The Bears played three teams over the course of two days. They bested #7 John Hopkins University in four sets with a score of 3-1 in their first game, they slayed the #2 Claremont McKenna College with a scoreline of 3-2, and swept California Lutheran University.

WashU vs John Hopkins University

First up was #7 Johns Hopkins University, a team that came into this matchup with only one loss. Their firepower continued as the leaders in kills came from the two Johns Hopkins outsides with 15 and 19 kills, an attack that led them to a first-set victory. Johns Hopkins put themselves into a familiar position, but the Bears, coming off a crushing loss to #6 Hope College the previous week, wouldn’t let their story end in yet another defeat. 

In the second set, the Bears took complete control, never relinquishing their lead and winning 25-21. Despite having fewer kills than John Hopkins, key aces and taking advantage of errors allowed them to stick a “W” onto their match. Critical skills from senior Paris Nix, sophomore Sam Buckley, and freshman Leah Oyewole put the Bears in a position to control their destiny in a crucial set. The momentum carried itself into the third set, capitalized by an absurd 0.538 kill percentage by junior Jasmine Sells. She would go on to lead WashU with 16 kills. 

“Leah and [junior] Elise Gilroy made the All-Tournament team at this tournament…which is a huge honor,” Walby wrote. “Just at this tournament alone were the #2, #6, #7, #14, #12, and #17 ranked teams. So to have two members on the All-Tournament team is a huge honor. I think it is a testament to how hard our team is working together to improve every single day as a group.”

This dominance was also accompanied by an atrocious 0.058 kill percentage by the Blue Jays and a season-high 10 errors. The fourth set was closer, but the Bears maintained a lead the entire time once again. John Hopkins fought after the first set was complete, and a lack of excitement on the court demonstrated that. The California crowd seemed to get quieter as the game moved on, with the Bears only getting louder and louder to make up for the lack of noise. A season-high 0.315 kill percentage and 33 assists from setter Sam Buckley boosted the game as the Bears won 25-20 to win the match in four sets. 

“Sam brings a lot of consistency to our offense,” Walby wrote. “She really works hard to better the ball and put her attackers in a good situation to score. She works to get extra reps and studies herself on film just as much as she studies our opponents.”

 “She is truly committed to being great for her teammates on a regular basis,” she continued.

In the nightcap, WashU faced off against #2 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, an undefeated team. However, the task seemed a little easier coming off an afternoon game that saw WashU take down a titan in JHU. The first set saw the Bears neck-and-neck with the Deers, with seven lead changes throughout the first 20 points. However, a six-point run capitalized by kills from freshman Leah Oyewole and attacking errors on the other side saw the Bears maintain a lead that they never relinquished, en route to a 25-21 victory. However, the following two sets proved why the Deers were given their two-seed ranking. A combined 0.563 kill percentage and 0 errors across these two sets saw them earn a lead that they would never relinquish. 

Despite a set-high seven kills from Jasmine Sells and four from junior Lucy David, the Bears’ best efforts were crushed by an absurd display on the other side. However, the team had found itself in positions like these before, and this underdog mentality allowed it to prevail once again. In the fourth set, Jasmine Sells and Sam Buckley again worked in tandem to help lift the Bears from a six-point deficit to a 25-22 win. 

The stage was set for a decisive Set 5, the biggest set of the season thus far for the Bears. On one hand, the Deers had proved their dominance, putting up video-game numbers in Sets 2 and 3. Meanwhile, the Bears displayed a team that knew how to come from behind, a team that was more a family than a group of players, emphasized by their relentless energy on the court. This team knew how to perform when it came down to the clutch. 

After a relentless back-and-forth effort, the game was 11-12 in favor of the Deers. Buckley, who hadn’t targeted Davis since the beginning of Set 4, put all her trust into the six-foot outside, and she delivered. Davis’ four straight kills were all over the court, and had so much velocity that the Deers’ defenders didn’t stand a chance. The Bears had won the game of a lifetime in Set 5, 15-12. It was an experience they wouldn’t forget. 

Following their top-two Top 10 wins, the Bears finished the weekend with a Saturday-morning matchup against California Lutheran.To start the opening set, the Bears were cruising. Freshman Leah Oyewole delivered a kill to earn the first point before the Bears went on a 10-point scoring run, building a substantial 16-1 lead and forcing two timeouts by Cal Lutheran. Cal Lutheran displayed more fight toward the end of the set and brought the score to23-10 before the Bears cruised to finish out the set 25-11. 

The Bears held a comfortable lead throughout the second set, coasting to another 25-11 win. However, in the third set, Cal Lutheran refused to be put away easily. They trailed 17-11 ten minutes into the set, but quickly brought the set to a tightly contested 23-22. The Bears managed to seal their victory with a 25-23 win. 

In the match, Oyewole produced a team-high 17 kills, while Sells posted 13, building on her 2022 All-UAA First Team season. 2022 AVCA Freshman of the Year Sam Buckley delivered 37 assists, and junior Elise Gilroy notched a team-high 17 digs to help lead the team to victory.

At the conclusion to the East to West Invitational, Walby was pleased with the team’s overall performance and how the players came together to embrace top-tier DIII volleyball competition.

“I love that our team is embracing the process of competing,” she wrote. “They are learning each day how to compete together and work for each other. They are finding their [personalities] and [identities], and it is fun for me to watch — really look forward to seeing how our team continues to grow.”  

The Bears head back to St. Louis for their Wednesday, Sept. 13 match at Webster University. There, they’ll look to extend their win streak to four games before traveling to Wisconsin for the UW-Whitewater Invite.

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