With Halloween in sight, Westminster gives WU volleyball a fright
It was supposed to be an easy tune-up game before conference tournament play, but when the Blue Jays stole the first two sets, the streaking Bears, who had just swept No. 3 Wittenberg University, were forced to the ropes. As if waiting for the added drama, the Red and Green responded, hitting .393 as a team in the final three sets, taking three and four with force en route to the victory 18-25, 24-26, 25-9, 25-8, 15-11 victory.
The next day, Washington University squared off against Greenville College in a similar softer matchup. Versus the Panthers, the Bears rode a 16-kill, 16-dig performance from senior six rotation player Rexi Sheredy to a smooth four set 25-13, 23-25, 25-22, 25-18 win.
With the pair of midweek victories, the No. 15 Bears improve to 20-9, 15-4 in their last 19. The Bears’ recent performances should give them plenty of momentum heading into the University Athletic Association (UAA) tournament starting Nov. 4, but Tuesday’s game against Westminster almost wrote a different storyline. Riding high after their straight-set steamroll over Wittenberg four days earlier, the Bears allowed the Blue Jays to hit .257 as a team in the opening two sets—uncharacteristically high compared to their .183 season average.
Westminster also took advantage of a struggling Bears serve receive in the first set, notching eight service aces, including three in four points during a 6-0 run that opened up a seven point lead. The Red and Green serve receive was tagged for 13 errors in five sets, a season-high and four more than any other five-set game. Meanwhile a Bears offense that was ruthlessly efficient Saturday against Wittenberg was stymied with just nine kills and five errors in the opening set.
After Westminster won the second set, the Bears came back from the dead. Backs against the wall, the Bears offense suddenly sprung to life, hitting a red-hot .474. The defense found their stride as well, tallying five blocks in the set and holding the Blue Jays to more errors than kills. The combo resulted in their second-best single set point margin all season. It couldn’t get much better for the Bears. Then came the next set.
In the fourth, the Bears hit a similarly torrid .471, but it was their defense that laid down the proverbial hammer—or block. Westminster hit -.194, the lowest single-set percentage by an opponent all season, as the Bears held the Blue Jays to just six kills and 13 errors. At one point winning nine points in a row, Wash. U.’s 17 -point margin of victory in the set tied their season best.
In the abbreviated fifth set, the Bears and Westminster were knotted at 9-9, when a service error from the Blue Jays sparked a 4-0 run. That would be all the margin Wash. U. would need as they iced the surprisingly close win on an ace from Sheredy.
Stitching together their usual Frankenstein-esque offensive diversity, four Bears registered at least nine kills, with sophomore outside hitter-right side hybrid Ifeoma Ufondu leading the way with 15, while sophomore middle Julianne Malek added 12 on just 18 attempts and two errors. Malek’s .556 hitting mark was the second-highest in a single game all season (minimum 12 kills).
On the defensive end, freshman libero Zoe Baxter had a team-high 18 digs, while the Bear’ front line combined for 14 blocks, two off from their season-high.
The Bears carried some of that defensive momentum into the next day, against Greenville, holding the Panthers to just four kills in the first set.
The Bears’ offense, however, fell out of rhythm from the crisp possessions they ran against Westminster, at one point committing four straight errors to give the Panthers a 17-12 lead in the second set.
After splitting the first two sets, the Red and Green buckled down and hit .289 through the final two sets to ice the fin. Sheredy and senior middle hitter Caroline Dupont teamed up on a block to seal the win for the Bears. Sheredy lead the team with 16 kills, tied for her season high. She now has at least nine kills in 13 of her last 14 games.
With the pair of wins over local opponents, the Bears end their regular season and begin preparations to host the UAAs. Their first match of the tournament comes against Case Western Reserve University.