RHODE ISLAND 0
With Rhode Island fighting for survival late in its match against Temple’s volleyball team, Rams coach Bob Schneck called for a timeout.
During the break Rams’ sophomore Leslie Wiekamp took command of the huddle and desperately tried to rally her squad.
“Let’s go,” Wiekamp told her teammates and coaches. “Let’s fight.”
It was a noble attempt to motivate her team.
But it didn’t work.
The Owls refused to let up on their Atlantic Ten Conference opponents this weekend, outlasting Fordham, 3-1, (30-22, 30-32, 30-23, 33-31) Friday, and sweeping Rhode Island Saturday, 3-0 (30-21, 30-23, 30-21).
Back at McGonigle Hall for the first time in nearly a month, the Owls (9-8 overall, 3-1 A-10) improved to 7-1 at home this season.
“They’re playing with a little bit more confidence, which is something that is going to be critical for them to be successful,” coach Bob Bertucci said. “They have to start believing in themselves and my feeling is that only comes from being successful. As you win matches, you gain a little more confidence.”
The Owls endured a couple close games Friday night against Fordham (14-7, 1-1) but unlike last week’s loss to Saint Louis, the team refused to collapse under pressure.
Every time Fordham tried to mount a comeback, the Owls came up with a big block, a timely dig or a clutch kill.
Sophomore Patricia Vernon said the team had a “fire” in them against Fordham that wouldn’t allow them to relinquish control of the match.
“We want to win,” sophomore Patricia Vernon said. “We’re tired of losing.”
Vernon, who had 14 kills, six digs and three blocks against Fordham, said the team’s overall performance was even better
against Rhode Island (4-14, 1-1).
“[Against Fordham] we won, but we realized that we didn’t play to our potential,” she said. “[Against Rhode Island] we focused on playing as well as we could and that involves all of us doing our part.”
In addition to solid team play, the Owls benefited from several exceptional individual performances.
Senior Maira Mogollon dished out 78 assists in the two matches, many of them to junior Yue Liu, who finished with 21 kills against Fordham and 15 versus Rhode Island.
Junior Ying Sun Ling had an explosive all-around performance against Rhode Island, recording 14 kills and 22 digs.
The team also received contributions from freshmen Glory Epelle and Jackie Morrison.
Epelle and Morrison received more game time than usual as each player was inserted into the starting lineup at one point this weekend in the absence of senior outside hitter Jessica Waybrant, who was out for personal reasons.
“Glory really stepped up and did a great job and Jackie also played really well,” said junior Christina DeMarco, who finished the weekend with 16 kills, six digs and six blocks. “I think that really helped us out a lot, too, knowing that they could come in and contribute right away even though they are not used to getting this much playing time.”
Stepping into the setter position is often difficult for freshmen, but Morrison managed to do a nice job in the role, Bertucci said. Morrison had five assists against Fordham and eight assists against Rhode Island.
In the final minutes of the tightly-contested fourth game against Fordham, Epelle landed a couple of timely kills to help swing the match in the Owls’ favor. She finished the weekend with a total of eight kills.
“I was real excited about Glory’s performance,” Bertucci said. “She showed some real aggressiveness and determination out there … Athletically I saw her do some things that I was real impressed with this weekend.” The team’s play at the net was also impressive this weekend, Bertucci said. The team recorded a season-high 13 blocks against Fordham.
“Our middle blockers, Christina DeMarco and Patricia Vernon, are really concentrating more on their blocking and that is something that has to happen for us to be successful,” he said. “Not only does it help us get points at the net, it really impacts our backcourt and our ability to play defense.”
The Owls face Bucknell Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at McGonigle Hall. The team then travels to Ohio to take on A-10 powerhouses Dayton (13-5, 3-0) and Xavier (9-8, 2-1) this weekend. “They’re two of the top teams in the conference and both matches are on the road,” Bertucci said. “For both of those reasons, its going to be a very difficult weekend for us, but it will also be a great challenge for us and I hope we’re going to be ready for it.”
Dayton defeated Temple in the A-10 Championship match last year. The Flyers’ senior Faye Barhorst, the 2005 A-10 Player of the Year, is regarded as one of the best middle blockers in the nation. Xavier currently leads the A-10 in three team categories: hitting percentage, assists and kills.
“We’re capable of beating both of those teams,” DeMarco said. “It’s just not going to be easy, that’s for sure.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.