Heading into last weekend’s Atlantic Ten Conference tournament, the volleyball team knew that in order to capture the 2006 crown, it would likely have to get by a couple West Division foes.
The East Division champion Owls were dismissed from competition by Saint Louis, one of those very West Division opponents, Saturday, at the Frericks Center in Dayton, Ohio.
The Billikens topped the Owls 3-1 (30-26, 30-27, 26-30, 30-19) to advance to the A-10 Championship Game, which they won against Dayton Sunday.
The loss, which ended the Owls’ season, surprised players and coaches who said the team played high-caliber volleyball.
“I was really happy with how the girls played,” coach Bob Bertucci said. “It was one of the best matches we played all year.”
The Owls (16-14 overall, 8-6 A-10) were led by junior Yue Liu who lifted the squad with 21 kills and 21 digs, a feat that had not been seen in the tournament since George Washington’s Ruth Lazzari posted 22 kills and 20 digs in 2002.
Game 1 was a defensive struggle, as both teams rallied to 10 ties and two lead changes. In the end it was the Billikens, led by five blocked balls, who edged the Owls 30-26.
The Billikens (22-8 overall, 11-2 A-10) also captured the second contest behind the senior tandem Angela Powers and Tatayana Menshikova.
Both contributed eight kills each, leaving the Owls with a 0-2 hole at the break and on the brink of elimination.
“They fought very hard the first two games,” Bertucci said of the Owls. “I think they came into the break with a little bit of a surprise because they knew they were playing well.”
In Game 3, junior Ying Sun Ling breathed new life into the ailing Owls with her three kills on seven swings. The defense dictated the tone as the Owls won 30-26 to stay alive.
At the start of game four, sophomore Patricia Vernon, playing in pain throughout the game, reached her breaking point and had to be carried off the court due to injury.
The loss of the 6-0 Vernon proved costly, as it gave the Billikens a height advantage.
“The average height of the left side was 6-2; our average height opposite them was about 5-10,” Bertucci said. “I really believe we could have won if Patricia Vernon didn’t get hurt going into that fourth game.”
Game 4 was knotted at 11 when the Billikens
nailed shut any lingering window of opportunity with a 19-8 closing run.
In the end, the game was just another road game marked in the loss column. Road wins were few and far between this year, as the Owls finished with a 5-12 record away from McGonigle Hall.
The Owls had also lost to the Billikens 3-1 this year on Sep. 23 in Saint Louis.
On the bright side, the Owls had their taste of success with an 11-1 home record, as well as winning the East Division.
“I think it was successful,” Bertucci said of the season. “Of course, we would have liked to win more games and we would have liked to have been in the finals, but we have a core group coming back that has a tremendous amount of experience.”
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.