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Volleyball hits stride, earns sweep of GW Invitational with win over Radford

Senior Middle Blocker Maggie Skjelbred attempts a kill in the Colonials' four set win over Radford. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Senior Middle Blocker Maggie Skjelbred attempts a kill in the Colonials’ four set win over Radford. Andrew Goodman | Hatchet Staff Photographer

Updated: Sept. 10, 2015 at 10:53 p.m.

In the middle of the second set, having lost the first and fallen behind again 20-16, GW head coach Amanda Ault called a timeout. She told her team that the set was a must win.

“We just said this has got to be a must-have win for us, we’ve got to take this set,” Ault said. “Everybody had to tighten their game up.”

The Colonials responded, and did win the set. And then they won the next two as well, beating Radford 3-1 on Saturday to close out the GW Invitational with a perfect 3-0 record. Set scores were 19-25, 31-29, 28-26 and 25-18 to move GW to 4-3 on the season.

Struggling early, the Colonials got steadily better as the match went on. GW ultimately outhit Radford .179 to .170 but was behind .061 to .289 at the end of the first set.

“I think we’ve been struggling on finding a consistent rhythm, but when it’s there it’s on. It’s so good. We just need to find that for the rest of the season,” said middle blocker Maggie Skjelbred.

The Colonials were particularly dominant from the middle. Setter Jordan Timmer racked up 51 assists, feeding middle blockers Chidima Osuchukwu (22 kills) and Skjelbred (14 kills).

The Highlanders had clearly game-planned for Osuchukwu, an All-American honorable mention last season, and stuck two or three bodies in front of her most of the time she was on the court.
For the first couple of sets it frustrated her, she sent several balls too far and out of bounds in an attempt to avoid her blockers, but towards the end of the match she began to work around them. Osuchukwu had five errors through the first two sets but ended the match with only seven, hitting .366.

With the Highlanders having laid their plans around Osuchukwu, Skjelbred kept the Colonials in the game during a number of key stretches early. She was errorless in the first set while posting five kills, and ultimately hit .265 on the day.

“Maggie has done a great job this season of playing that role and understanding she can come in and be as effective,” Ault said. “You know it’s going to be a different game, she’s going to be able to score different ways but she’s finding the floor way more this year than ever before.”

The game itself was streaky. The Colonials opened up the third set with an 8-1 run, but allowed Radford to catch back up and tie the set at 12. GW again took the lead and got to set point at 24-18, but Radford then saved six set points in a row to force the set into a slew of extra points.

The Colonials closed out the third in large part due to a resurgent set from freshman outside hitter Kelsey Clark. Though she struggled through the first two sets and would finish with a .081 hitting percentage, Clark hit .429 in the third set, giving GW the production from the outside that it will need to complement the dominant middle.

“We’ve got to be able to terminate from the pins,” Ault said. “And so we’ve got to get more production from our outsides and from our right side. And I think that that continued to progress and we tried a couple different lineups and I think some of them climbed out of the holes that they were putting themselves in in the first couple of sets.”

Skjelbred said that the team had gone into the match hoping to get out of it as efficiently as possible. Consistently playing up to their abilities has been challenging for the team so far, and it’s made the beginning of the season somewhat of a rollercoaster.

GW went up by two sets over the No. 11 team in the country, Oregon, on Tuesday, only to lose in five. The team ultimately swept their own invitational, but seemed to play down in early sets to both Princeton on Friday and Radford, which had lost its other two games that weekend, on Saturday. In between the Colonials won a five-set match against UC Davis in which all but one set came down to two points.

“I think our focus from now on is having a chip on our shoulder and having some confidence when we go in,” Skjelbred said. “People are going to come after us this season so the most important thing for us is just knowing that and going hard on every opponent.”

The Colonials next game takes place Friday at 7 p.m. at Navy.

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