Volleyball gains experience, optimism in tournaments

By Peter Steele

We can all forgive the women’s volleyball team for being a little tired. In addition to their regular two competition per week schedule, the Scots have travelled to two large invitational tournaments this season. While one of them, the Augsburg Invitational, was right here in our backyard, the other was a four-game swing down to Georgia to take on the competition at the Emory Invitational in Atlanta. In the process, the Scots found out that the rest of the country can dig, set, and kill on level with the cream of the crop in the MIAC, losing to two nationally-ranked teams in No. 7 Wittenburg (Ohio) and No. 2 Emory.

Long-distance travel to a tournament was something the team tries to do at least once every two years.

“I think it’s important to be able to do an extended trip for a while so they have a chance to do more than just sit on a bus and play and go back home. The team got a chance to bond, to spend an extended amount of time together,” said coach Stephanie Schleuder.

Captain Eric Cusac ’10 also thought the trip was a good change of pace for the team.

“It’s nice to get out and play different teams to see what’s going on in the rest of the country, and see some different faces and different styles of play outside the MIAC,” she said.

The Scots’ first challenge came against Wittenburg. They lost 3-0 but hung tough the whole match. Maybe it was just that they were happy to be off the plane, but this was particularly true in the first set when they forced the Tigers to claw for two extra points in a 27-25 decision. Their efforts were helped in that match by Sonia Mizikarova ’09’s 11 kills and Marie Godwin ’10’s defensive efforts, including her 10 digs.

Next up was a 3-0 loss to Washington and Lee (Va.) and a nailbiting 3-2 defeat at the hands of Maryville (Tenn.), in which Macalester went down 15-7 in the deciding final set. This was the prelude for the final match of the round-robin format, a showdown against No. 2 Emory.

“They come out and it’s like this frickin’ army of these Amazon girls,” said Kiera Coulter ’10, the second year libero out of California. “They were a lot taller across the board than a lot of the MIAC teams.”

Maybe due to this intimidation factor, or because the experienced Emory squad had come into the match having played almost twice as many games this season, it took a while for the Scots to get into the swing of things. They dropped the opening set 25-6, but came roaring back to push Emory to the brink in the second. The score in that set was a tight 28-26. The third set was also close, with Emory eventually sealing the victory 25-19.

Despite the fact that the Emory match went into the books as a 3-0 loss, Coach Schleuder and first-year setter Danielle Dweck ’12 both pointed to the match as one of the teams’ best games of the season. The key to putting a second set scare into one of the best teams in the country was a balanced attack that featured four players with at least four kills, led by Majra Mucic ’10 with 8 kills. Also, Dweck logged 22 sets and Mucic added three blocks over the course of the match. The team recorded 42 digs, their highest total of the tournament.

The team expressed optimism that a return to their winning ways will coincide with their return to Minnesota. Coach Schleuder acknowledged that the team is young, with only one senior and two freshman starters, and hopes that the team can improve by working on technical aspects of their game.

“It’s most important that we improve on our hitting,” she said. “We’ve got to hit a higher percentage of kills. Our kill percentage is .150, and it needs to be up at about .200.”

“We just need to practice and get more consistent and have less errors,” said Dweck.

H
owever, what the team sees as their greatest need for improvement is communication between teammates on the court as well as team unity. The squad is unanimous and vocal about their great chemistry off the court, but finding that same cohesiveness with the game on the line is more challenging.

“The important thing to remember is why we play the sport. Hopefully we play it for good reasons,” said Cusac. “It’s just a matter of playing and not thinking too much.