The Spartan volleyball team ended their season last weekend with the culminating University Athletics Association conference championship. The team entered the competition ranked sixth in the group, leading Brandeis University and the University of Rochester. The UAA conference is particularly challenging with five of the eight teams making the NCAA national tournament this year. In such a highly competitive group, the Spartans knew they would have to beat some good teams to improve their position.
Despite ending the season in the same place they started, the Spartans had some exceptional playing during the weekend. Coach Karen Farrell was very pleased with the team’s progression over the season. “We ended the season playing at the highest level,” Farrell said. “I think we played a very difficult schedule this season, but we beat the teams that we’re better than.”
The weekend got off to a difficult start with a match against Emory University, the third-seeded team. The Spartans were looking to improve on the last showing against this team and did so with two very competitive sets during the course of the match. The Spartans looked strong in the first set, tying the score at 20 all before losing 25-23. Exhaustion set in during the second set, and the Spartans dropped 25-10, but the team came back in the third to try to force a fourth set.
The team played evenly in the beginning, but consistently allowed Emory to put together multiple points before answering with one of its own. Despite some excellent play to close out the set, the ladies were unable to defeat this seasoned opponent and moved to the consolation bracket with a final set score of 25-23.
The Spartans then faced off against seventh-seed Brandeis University. The team was able to get some momentum going after the tough morning match and got off to a great start, taking the first set 25-23. The team was looking to repeat their straight-set win against Brandeis earlier in the year and won the second and third sets in decisive fashion with scores of 25-16 and 25-22. With this win, the Spartans were in contention for the fifth place spot in a final match versus New York University.
Many Spartans performed well in this first day of competition, including offensive weapon Carolyn Bogart with 18 kills, defensive standout Katie Best with 27 digs and setters Robyn Marks and Lauren Gurd who contributed 26 and 28 assists, respectively, during the course of the first day.
The team was looking to improve to the fifth spot in the final match of the tournament and, most likely, the season. The Spartans started early, dominating the start of the first set and scoring as many as five unanswered points to lead the Violets in the first set with a final score of 25-22. The second set started with more of the same until the NYU team scored nine straight points to lead the Spartans 19-14. The Case Western team fought back to erase this lead and go out to a 24-23 lead, but were unable to hold on as the Violets took the second set 26-24.
The Spartans couldn’t get their game settled in the third set as they opened with a score of 0-8. The team rallied but was unable to take a lead and fell 25-22 going into the fourth set. With their tournament results on the line, the Spartans and the Violets kicked into high gear during this final set. Both teams traded scoring runs and defensive stands to bring the score to 24-24.
The teams traded scores with both teams committing untimely errors in the final moments of the match. But the Violets finally took the Spartans out with two straight kills to bring the final score to 28-26. Standout players included Natalie Southard with 11 kills, Gurd with 19 assists and Best with 28 digs.
Farrell was very encouraged by the strong play in the match versus NYU, who was among the teams selected for the national tournament. The team lost to NYU earlier in the season and improved their playing against this challenging team. “NYU didn’t make any mistakes,” Farrell said, “The points we got were definitely earned.”
The team enters the off season with a final record of 16-17, ending a streak of five consecutive winning seasons. With returning talent and gained experience, the team will look to bounce back next year. “We’ll be starting a much higher place next fall. I think that we’ll be winning a lot more of the matches we lost this year,” Farrell said.
The young team will use this season to fuel their competitive spirit as they come back next fall.