Even before the newly minted class of 2014 started arriving on campus this week, the volleyball team has made this season a year to remember.
At 11–1 as of press time, the Maroons have started the year with one of the best streaks in program history. Just two seasons ago, this was a program moving in the wrong direction, finishing 6–29 in 2006 and 7–26 in 2007. Chicago had won more than 25 games only four times in school history, and it hadn’t accomplished that feat since the mid-1990s.
Enter the class of 2012. With a wealth of talent and athleticism around the court, the 2008 Maroons led a resurgence that saw their win total increase from seven to 19, the second-best improvement in school history.
But the wins tell only part of the story. With the arrival of head coach Vanessa Walby, that year’s team established a new culture of success for the volleyball program. Then, last season, the Maroons confirmed what their 2008 season had hinted at: They meant business.
The squad stormed through September with a 10–5 record, but it was the end of the season that established Chicago as a contender in the UAA. After finishing in the bottom half of the conference in 112 consecutive seasons, the Maroons took third place in the UAA tournament, coming within two points of toppling perennial favorite Emory Eagles, the 2008 NCAA Champions.
This year’s team has picked up where it left off last November, with a win streak that has vaulted them to 20th in the latest NCAA polls.
The coming weeks will tell the Maroons how far they are from reaching the upper crust of D-III volleyball. The 11-game win streak was snapped September 11 by sixth-ranked UW–Oshkosh, Chicago’s strongest opponent to date. Even with the loss, the South Siders had to be encouraged by the result against such a strong program, as they dropped the second set by just two points.
The Maroons’ will see a series of tests near the end of the month, as eighth-ranked UW–Whitewater awaits on September 25 before the first UAA Round Robin October 2–3, when they play top-ranked Wash U, the defending national champions. The second Round Robin will also be key for Chicago, as the Maroons take on 23rd-ranked NYU and third-ranked Emory on consecutive days.
A young team for the past few seasons, the Maroons have developed into a team rich with upperclassmen. Two fourth-years and six third-years anchor the lineup, with a team that plays beyond its age because of the roster turnover prior to the 2008 season.
Third-year Isis Smalls, the all-UAA outside hitter who led the squad with 419 kills last season, is pacing Chicago in that category again this year, racking up 121 thus far.
Second-year Sam Brown, who made the all-UAA second team and keyed the Maroons’ defense a season ago, has found similar success, leading the team with 21 digs on the year.
The Maroons return to action this Wednesday against Carthage (5–4), and they play one of just three home contests next Tuesday against Wheaton.