It took the entire regular season schedule to get the job done, but the volleyball team accomplished two of its team goals last weekend.
The Owls clinched the Atlantic Ten Conference’s East Division and secured a first round bye in this weekend’s conference tournament with a victory over George Washington (30-25, 30-22, 30-21) in the Charles E. Smith Center Saturday. It was the final regular season match for the Owls, who finished 16-13 overall and 8-5 in the A-10.
“Getting the bye was one of our objectives in the beginning of the season,” coach Bob Bertucci said. “I felt it would give us the best opportunity to be successful in the A-10 tournament and it was important for us to accomplish that [goal].
“We only have 11 girls on the team with 10 playing all the time. To have to win three [matches] in three days would’ve been difficult for us.”
One goal still remains for the Owls: to win the A-10 tournament, which will be held at the Frericks Center in Dayton, Ohio.
“We have to stay together as a team the whole time,” senior Jessica Waybrant said. “I think we have the skill to win the tournament if everyone is playing their best for the team” and not worrying about their individual performance.
The Owls have qualified for the conference tournament for the 11th consecutive season under Bertucci. Though they have won the championship four times, the A-10 crown has eluded the Owls for the past three seasons.
The team was swept, 3-0, by Dayton in the championship match last season.This season, the tournament was expanded from a four-team playoff to a six-team field. Bertucci said the change is significant because the Owls will not know who they play until Friday night.
“We’ll try to take care of the ball on our side of the court,” Bertucci said. “We’ll focus our attention on our opponents, also, but it will be more of a generic approach since we won’t know who we’re playing until Friday night.”
As always, the path to the trophy will be tough. The defending champion Flyers (21-8 overall, 11-2 in the A-10) have punched their ticket into the six-team tournament, along with Saint Louis, Xavier, Fordham and Charlotte.
The Flyers, who were tied with St. Louis (19-8 overall, 11-2 in the A-10) for the A-10 West Division lead through Sunday, will be competing for their fourth-straight conference tournament title. The Owls could potentially run into A-10 East Division-rival Charlotte (19-11 overall, 6-6 in the A-10) in the tournament. After defeating Charlotte, 3-0, at home Oct. 14, the Owls missed an opportunity to lock up the A-10 East with a 3-0 loss to the 49ers (28-30, 25-30, 28-30) in North Carolina Friday. Bertucci said it was difficult for the team to get comfortable at the 49ers’ facility. One of the reasons the Owls struggled on the road this season is because every facility is different, he said, noting that the players had trouble with “depth perception” in the match against 49ers.
“That was a really tough match that we lost in three,” Bertucci said. “If we played that match at Temple, we would win in three.”
Waybrant said the loss to the 49ers was deceiving because, statistically, the Owls performed well. The Owls finished with a higher hitting percentage and more team blocks than the 49ers in a close match that included 32 tie scores and 14 lead changes.
“We played a really good game against them,” Waybrant said. “We may have played our best game of the season against George Washington.”
Against the Colonials, junior Yue Liu and sophomore Patricia Vernon led the offensive attack for the Owls. Liu had 15 kills and 16 digs and Vernon contributed 10 kills, three digs and three blocks. Senior Maira Mogollon dished out 32 assists while Waybrant chipped in with 11 kills and three blocks.
The A-10 East Division title was still up for grabs when the Owls beat the Colonials to secure their position atop the division. Waybrant said the Owls felt no pressure during the match.
“We were pretty confident that we could beat them,” Waybrant said of George Washington.
“They came out strong in the beginning and they didn’t let up,” Waybrant continued. “That was probably the first team we played this season that didn’t let up on us” when they fell behind.” The win over the Colonials improved the Owls to 6-4 in their last 10 matches. The team was involved in six straight 3-0 matches to finish the season – winning three of those six contests. Despite finishing the season on an up-and-down note, the team is looking to put it all together this weekend for a chance to play for the championship Sunday.
“They have to be highly motivated,” Bertucci said. “They have to want it more than the other teams because they are going to be challenged significantly.” For seniors Waybrant, Mogollon and Yan Liu, this will be the last chance to win an A-10 tournament. Waybrant said she is ready to make one last run at the title.
“I have a real good feeling going into this tournament,” she said.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at email@example.com.