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PAUL closes in Western Market
By Ella Mitchell, Staff Writer • April 22, 2024

Preview: Volleyball enters conference play as top contender

Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Andrew Goodman
Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

After finishing non-conference play with a 9-4 record, the volleyball team enters conference play as an early favorite for the conference title.

GW leads the conference in hitting percentage (.242), assists per set (13.60, which ranks seventh in the NCAA), kills per set (14.65) and blocks per set (2.73).

Individually, junior setter Jordan Timmer’s record of 11.37 assists per set is tied for 15th in the country. Sophomore Chidima Osuchukwu ranks 24th in the country with 1.42 blocks per set, and junior libero Maddy Doyle’s 4.67 digs per set is good for 50th in the NCAA.

On paper, the Colonials are undoubtedly a threat for post-season play. But on the floor, GW still has a few adjustments to make. Head coach Amanda Ault has said that at times the team has shown a lapse in mental toughness, team cohesiveness and consistent play.

GW will also have to limit ball handling errors moving forward. The team has totaled eight more errors on the season compared to their opponents.

Another area for improvement is serving: The Colonials have totaled 32 more service errors than aces this season, far from the 1:1 ratio goal that Ault has set for the team each game.

The Colonials face a challenging conference slate. While four of their first five games will be at home, three of those games will come against Rhode Island, Dayton and Saint Louis. GW will then have a five-game road stretch, which includes a non-conference matchup against American. The Colonials end conference play at Rhode Island on Nov. 16.

Here is a look at what should be GW’s toughest competition in conference play this season:

Dayton (10-4)
The Flyers return junior libero Janna Krafka, who earned Atlantic 10 all-conference honorable mention honors last season after totaling 475 digs (4.40 digs per set). So far this season, junior outside hitter Alaina Turner has led Dayton on offense. She ranks second in the conference with 4.24 kills per set. As a team, the Flyers are second in the conference in hitting percentage at .229.

But Dayton will be without middle blocker Megan Campbell, who was named to the A-10 all-conference first team last season after leading the Flyers with 301 kills and 141 blocks.

Duquesne (5-7)
After defeating VCU in the A-10 title game to secure their first conference championship in school history, the Dukes enter conference play with a mediocre non-conference record.

The team, which was picked to repeat as conference champion in this year’s pre-season coaches poll, returns first team all-conference selection senior middle blocker Arielle Love. Last season, Love led the Dukes with 366 kills. Duquesne also returns last season’s A-10 setter of the year in junior Mary Henry, who finished with over 1,100 sets for the second-straight season.

Reigning A-10 coach of the year Steve Opperman will be without two key players from last season in all-conference first team selection Allison Foschia and all-conference second team selection Marah Farage. Last season, Farage and Foschia combined for 479 kills.

VCU (6-7)
Out of the 10 teams in the conference, the Rams may have taken the biggest hit since last season. Last season’s conference player of the year, Romana Kriskova, transferred to the University of Wisconsin. The team also lost last year’s libero-of-the-year Amanda Love, who has also reportedly transferred.

The Rams’ two big losses set them back from title-contenders to a pre-season ranking of sixth. Still, VCU is entering conference play with momentum after winning its last four games of the season. The Rams return second team all-conference selection in junior outside hitter Kalah Jones and senior setter Cecilia Aragao, who was sidelined last season with a knee injury.

Saint Louis (10-4)
Sharing the best A-10 non-conference record with the Flyers are the Billikens. Saint Louis has impressed so far this season, going 10-4 with a big win over No. 15 ranked Purdue in five sets.

The Billikens enter conference play as winners of nine of their last 10 games and are the only conference team to receive votes in the latest American Volleyball Coaches Association coaches poll. Returning from last season’s team is last year’s freshman-of-the-year, sophomore outside hitter Danielle Rygelski, who totaled 420 kills last season. Saint Louis also returns junior middle blocker Megan Gilbert, who earned all-conference first team honors last season.

The Billikens will be without last year’s top hitter, Mallory Dillon, who transferred to Missouri Baptist (NAIA) after leading Saint Louis with 431 kills last season.

Rhode Island (9-4)
After beginning their non-conference schedule red hot, winning their first five matches, the Rams have cooled off and are on a three-game losing skid.

The Rams return their top hitters in junior Franki Darnold and senior Catie Steffen. Darnold leads the A-10 in kills per set with 4.03, and has totaled 204 kills through 13 matches. Rhode Island also returns sophomore middle blocker Layne Self, who was an all-conference honorable mention selection last year. Self leads the conference and ranks 16th in the nation with 71 blocks this season.

As a team, Rhode Island has shown power on the defensive end. The Rams lead the A-10 in opponent hitting percentage (.161) and are ranked 16th in the country in digs per set (16.96).

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