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Women’s volleyball defense lags in 1-2 weekend

This post was written by Hatchet staff-writer Sean Hurd.

The women’s volleyball team struggled to keep up an offensive rhythm and hold down a defensive line this weekend in Illinois, wrapping up the NIU Invitational with a 1-2 record.

Game 1 vs. Western Illinois

The bright spot of the tournament came in the Colonials their first match of the tournament against Western Illinois (5-8).

The Colonials struggled early on, dropping the first set 25-19. Sophomore setter Jordan Timmer, who returned to the starting lineup Friday, had 10 assists for GW, while freshman middle blocker Chidima Osuchukwu finished with four kills and a single block.

In the second set, everything seemed to click for the Colonials, who held Western Illinois to just 11 points in the entire second set, and just five second set kills. The Colonials attacked the Leathernecks from all angles on the pin, combining for 13 kills on just three attack errors. Junior middle blocker Gabrial Rushton had two kills and three blocks, while freshman Emily Clemens tallied two service aces and two kills of her own.

After a tight third set that saw the Leathernecks squeeze out a 25-20 win, GW took control of the match in the fourth set with much of the credit going to their presence at the net. Osuchukwu and Timmer led the way for the Colonials, with Osuchukwu recording five kills and Timmer tallying 11 assists. The Colonials had a game-high 15 kills in the fourth set, again on just three attack errors. GW would eventually take the set 25-21.

If the Colonials were going to take the match, trading sets with the Leathernecks would have to end. GW jumped out to an early 4-1 lead, and rebounded after Western Illinois tied it a seven points apiece, to take the set, and match, 16-14.

Three Colonials players finished with 10 digs apiece, including Jordan Timmer who finished with a double-double of 39 assists and 15 digs.

Sophomore libero Maddy Doyle recorded 17 digs in the match, leading all players, while Osuchukwu finished the match with a game-high 18 kills.

Game 2 vs. Northern Illinois

GW’s second match took on a bit of a different tone, as the Colonials faced off against the host team, Northern Illinois.

Early on in the first set momentum was volleyed back and forth, but just over the halfway point, leading 15-14, the Colonials seemed to hit a wall. The Huskies would take nine of the following 10 points to open up a seven-point lead. The Colonials, unable to spark any offensive momentum, would drop the set 25-18.

In the match’s second set, the GW was forced to play catch-up after NIU came out of the gates swinging. The Colonials found themselves trailing by as much as six points, but kept chipping away until they tied it up at 23-23. But GW would struggle to find an answer from a strong NIU front line that totaled 19 second set kills . The Huskies would eventually take the second set 26-24, rallying for three straight points on two kills and a block.

Despite an 11-assist effort from Timmer, GW would be unable to piece together a late comeback against NIU in the match’s third set. For the third straight set in a row, the Huskies were able to jump out to an early set lead, controlling the rhythm early at 5-1. The Husky frontline had their best hitting percentage of the match at .375%, evident as Doyle only totaled nine digs in the match for the Colonials. After extending their lead to as much as seven points, the Huskies would take the third set and match by a score of 25-18.

Ault agreed that her team struggled defensively this weekend, but she credited her struggling defense to the team’s inability to stay consistent on the pin, not the opposing offense.

“We are really struggling to find our hitters, especially in transition,” Ault said. “Once that ball goes over and we don’t put it down, picking up our hitters knowing where they are communicating about it, it’s something that we need a lot of work on moving forward. It’s really difficult to have the defense lineup and be in the right positions to block in the right place.”

For the second game in a row, Osuchukwu led the Colonials attacking presence with 10 kills in the match, followed by junior outside hitter’s Kelsey Newman and Landon Garvik who tallied seven and six kills, respectively.

Game 3 vs. IPFW

GW’s last match of the tournament came against IPFW, a Summit League team who came into Saturday’s match having lost the last six games of the season, but who also made an appearance at the NCAA tournament and finished last season ranked No. 56 in the nation.

The Mastodons were efficient on the pen in the first set, striking 17 kills against the Colonials defense on just three attack errors. On the GW end, Newman and Timmer led the Colonials in an attempt to counter the strong hitting of IPFW. Newman tallied seven kills while Timmer totaled nine assists and a single block. But the Mastodons seemingly overpowered the Colonials, widening their lead to as much as eight points, winning the set 25-17.

In the second set, GW again struggled to find an early rhythm against IPFW. Despite limited errors, the Colonials struggled to find an answer for an IPFW team who jumped out to a 8-1 early lead and had their highest hitting percentage of the match in the second set at .435. The Mastodons were able to distance themselves from the Colonials, building a lead that rose as high as 11 points and win the set 25-14.

Early on in the third set, leading 14-7, it appeared as if the Mastodons would runaway with the match. But GW wouldn’t hand the third and final set over to IPFW without a fight. The Colonials clawed their way back into the set, tying it up at 23-23. But the effort was too little too late for the Colonials who would lose the next two points, 25-23, on two straight kills by the Mastodons.

For the second match in a row, Doyle struggled, posting a season low eight digs for GW.

Finding themselves trailing in the beginning of sets is something that Ault and her team have come too familiar with, and something that could prove fatal as the season progresses.

“We need to be making sure that we start off the match from the very first point,” said Ault who also added that she has expressed this to her team on multiple occasions. “We kind of tend to put ourselves in a hole in the beginning and then we have to fight really hard to get ourselves out of it.”

Despite the losing effort, the Colonials found a bright spot in Newman who returned to the GW frontline after nursing a back injury in previous matches. Newman finished the match with 14 kills on just three errors, and recorded a game high .478% hitting percentage. Ault views Newman’s return to the front line as a step in the right direction for her team.

“She’s back,” Ault said. “I think we gave her the rest that she needed, so that is definitely a positive for us.”

The Colonials have now been on the road for the past three weeks, and could fault some of their struggles potentially, for just being homesick.

“We’ve been on the road for the last three weeks, and it’s tough, especially when things don’t go your way” Ault said.  “I know that the girls are looking forward to playing at the Smith Center again, and looking forward to getting into the A-10’s. We certainly have some work to do.”

The Colonials return to the Smith Center floor next Sunday when they face Towson at 1 p.m..

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