Volleyball Rediscovers Winning Ways

The Swarthmore College women’s volleyball team halted its two-match losing streak last week, going 2-1 in three matches while picking up crucial conference victories over Washington College and Gettysburg.After rattling off nine straight wins between September 2 and September 22, the Garnet matched its best start in program history when it began 10-1 in 2010 and seemed nearly unbeatable, having won 27 consecutive sets during its streak. A 3-1 loss to conference foe Franklin and Marshall on September 26 and a straight-sets defeat at the hands of Johns Hopkins three days later, however, were definite setbacks for the Garnet, which is vying for position atop the Centennial Conference standings.“It was kind of demoralizing for us because we were having a really impressive season coming into the game against F&M,” setter and team captain Allie Coleman ’13 said. “The only team we had lost to [Juniata] was ranked in the top ten in the nation at the time, and then to lose two matches in one week against beatable opponents is always tough to handle.”

After playing its last two matches on the road, the team returned to action at Tarble Pavilion last Tuesday with a conference match against the Washington College Shorewomen. The first set was evenly matched until the score hit elevens, after which the Garnet won five straight points to pull ahead 16-11. After a timeout, Washington battled back, taking the next four points to pull within one. The teams traded points, but at 20-20, errors from the Garnet and two kills from Washington’s Kristin Lee gave the visiting team the first set 25-21.

The next set, however, belonged entirely to the Garnet, which took it 25-9 behind 11 kills from the team and three consecutive service aces from middle blocker Brone Lobichusky ’14, who finished the match with seven and an impressive .357 hitting percentage. The third and fourth sets, which went 25-15 in favor of the home side, followed with much of the same consistent play that brought the Garnet success during its winning streak.

“Beating Washington was vital,” Coleman said. “It was a good test of our ability to recover and get back on the right track. We really struggled in the first set, but then we got some of our confidence back in the second set and started really swinging and playing aggressively.”

Against Washington, outside hitter Kat Montemurro ’15 earned her seventh double-double of the season, picking up a team-leading 25 digs and 11 kills. In the front row, Zahra Ahmed ’15 performed well on both sides of the ball, collecting nine kills and four block assists while recording a hitting percentage of .286.

On Saturday afternoon, the Garnet hosted a tri-match as it welcomed Gettysburg Bullets and Moravian College to Tarble Pavilion. Swarthmore faced off first against the Bullets, who are another one of the conference’s top teams. Last year, they made it to the Centennial Conference championships against Johns Hopkins as the third-seeded team, where they fell in four sets.

Gettysburg took the first five points of the opening set and never looked back as it led the entire way en route to a 25-21 win, helped by nine errors from the Garnet.

Down one set, Swarthmore raced out to a 13-4 lead in the second frame behind nine kills from its front row. A Gettysburg timeout did little to stop the bleeding, as the Garnet continued to hammer away with kills from Montemurro, Lobichusky, Coleman and outside hitter Danielle Sullivan ’14, taking the second set decisively, 25-13. The team finished the set with 16 total kills and a .378 hitting percentage.

Inconsistent play, however, plagued the squad as it dropped the next set to the Bullets 22-25 behind eight errors and a .091 percentage.

Facing elimination in the fourth, the Garnet returned to form, pulling ahead early and then coasting to an easy win as it took the set 25-12.

“One thing that I noticed on our side was that when we started a set our really well, as a team we had a lot of confidence and we played well and weren’t afraid to take risks,” Coleman said. “When we were really at the top of our game, Gettysburg just wasn’t able to handle what we were throwing at them.”

The back and forth play set up a dramatic fifth set which had significant implications in the Centennial Conference standings. The winner would be fourth behind Johns Hopkins, Haverford, and F&M, who are all currently tied for first, while the loser would be in the fifth, right on the bubble of qualifying for the postseason. Although several matches remain to be played, every Centennial match is significant in such a competitive conference.

“Every win at every point in Conference is crucial,” Lobichusky said. “We want to treat every team the same – as an opponent that could possibly knock us out of playoffs”

Gettysburg served to open the set and claimed the first point after an attack error from Coleman, but the Garnet recovered quickly, earning serve after a kill by middle blocker Chastity Hopkins ’15. Early on, neither team was able to increase its lead beyond one point until the Bullets took two straight points at nine apiece to lead 11-9. A Swarthmore timeout refocused the Garnet, which evened things up after two consecutive kills from Montemurro. Gettysburg’s attempt to refocus with timeout of its own was unsuccessful as the home team took the next three behind kills from Lobichusky and Ahmed, and a service ace from Coleman.

At 14-11, the Garnet had several opportunities to close out the match, but the Bullets refused to concede, taking four straight points and earning a game point of their own.  After some adjustments, Swarthmore was able to pull even and earn several more game point choices, but to no avail. Finally, with at 20-19, the team pulled off the dramatic comeback win with a service ace from setter Samantha DuBois ’16 that rolled off the net.

“The moment right before the ball fell when it hit the tape felt like the longest second, but it was probably only a nanosecond of time,” Lobichusky said.

Montemurro finished the match with another double-double, picking up 25 kills and 19 digs. Lobichusky and Ahmed also finished in double figures for kills, earning 10 and 11 and respectively, while libero Madison Heppe ’16, who is having a strong first-year campaign so far, led the team with 35 digs.

The second match of the day against the Moravian Greyhounds was nearly as close as the first, with two of the four sets going into extra points. Unfortunately for the Garnet, however, the result was different as it dropped the match by a score of 28-26, 23-25, 29-27, 25-23.

“I think we were a little physically and mentally drained after the long match against Gettysburg,” Coleman said. “I would love to get the chance to play Moravian again because I really think we could beat them next time. We have traded matches back and forth with them over the years that I’ve been here, and any given day it seems to be able to go either way.”

The team will hope to refocus and continue its winning ways in conference as it travels to McDaniel on the 13th to take on the Green Terror over fall break. That match is scheduled to begin at 1 p.m.

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