Volleyball defeats two ranked opponents, goes 3-1

| Contributing Reporter

Trailing 16-21 in the second set against No. 6 Juniata College, the No. 8 Washington University volleyball team was in danger of dropping its second match of the day after losing to No. 9 Elmhurst College hours earlier. But the Bears battled back from the five-point deficit with nine straight points, including three kills by junior outside hitter Nkiru Udenze, to win the second set 25-21, and ultimately win the match 19-25, 25-21, 25-20, 25-21.

After that pivotal second set, the Red and Green went on a tear and won their final eight sets of the weekend, which resulted in wins over No. 12 University of St. Thomas and Simpson College in the Elmhurst Invite III on Saturday.

Freshman right side hitter Emily Richardson (left) and junior middle hitter Jackie Nelligan (right) make a block against against Southwestern University on Sept. 5. The Bears won three of four matches this weekend. Brian Benton | Student Life

Freshman right side hitter Emily Richardson (left) and junior middle hitter Jackie Nelligan (right) make a block against against Southwestern University on Sept. 5. The Bears won three of four matches this weekend.

The Bears only have one more ranked opponent on their schedule, and players said this weekend was important in shaping their readiness for next month’s postseason.

“This was really the crucial weekend to determine where we are going to go from now,” Udenze said. “If we had fallen to Juniata, I think that would have probably hurt us going into the St. Thomas game and I don’t think we would have played as well as we did, and because we were able to recover, I think that sets us up well to be tough going into the postseason and for whatever hard competition we face from here on out.”

Wash. U.’s first match of the weekend was a four-set loss against tournament host Elmhurst—a team that had knocked the Bears out of the NCAA Tournament the past two seasons. Friday’s match was a tightly contested affair, and with neither team able to separate itself offensively, each set went to the team that went on a two- or three-point run near the end.

Elmhurst won three of those four end-of-set battles, ultimately taking the match 26-24, 25-23, 23-25, 25-21.

Defenses paced the game, as the Bears hit at a paltry .151 clip and the Bluejays did not fare much better at .188. Elmhurst’s ability to control the frontcourt was a difference maker as the home team out-blocked the Red and Green 10-4.

Against Juniata, Wash. U. started off slowly but picked up their play halfway through the match. Sophomore libero Kalehua Katagiri served out the team’s 9-0 run to clinch the second set, which included six Wash. U. kills and three Juniata attack errors. A timeout from Juniata once the Bears closed within 20-21 did nothing to stem the streak.

The Red and Green then used more lengthy runs in the third and fourth sets to break open close contests. Udenze led the team with 14 kills in the match while Katagiri recorded 22 digs.

Following their split of Friday’s matches, the Bears were able to reel off three-set sweeps against St. Thomas and Simpson on Saturday.

The first match of the day saw Wash. U. cruise to a 25-19, 25-23, 25-21 victory over St. Thomas, which came in as the winner of 13 straight games.

The Bears were in control for most of the match thanks to a solid defensive effort. Seven blocks and 66 digs in only three sets set the tone as the Bears held the Bobcats to almost as many attacking errors as kills. Sophomore outside hitter Rexi Sheredy and Katagiri paced Wash. U. on the offensive and defensive side of the ball with a team-leading 10 kills and 19 digs, respectively.

Sheredy and Katagiri would be named to the all-tournament team at the end of the day.

The final match of the tournament was a dominant 25-17, 25-17, 25-15 win over Simpson. The Bears registered a .394 attack percentage, and sophomore middle hitter Caroline Dupont’s team-leading 10th and 11th kills iced the match and a 3-1 weekend for the Bears.

With their two victories on Saturday, the Bears can claim a perhaps coincidental statistic: they have now won their last 10 Saturday matches by a combined 30 sets to four, with the last seven victories coming in straight sets. Head coach Vanessa Walby insisted that the team’s recent success on Saturdays was purely a coincidence.

“Not sure if Saturdays play a role in things, but I think that the girls are extremely focused on playing their best every day and time they step on the court,” Walby said.

While most of Wash. U. enjoys Fall Break next weekend, the Bears will travel to Chicago for their second and final round of conference matches, with a Friday highlight against No. 3 Emory University.

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