“Dominant” is a word not to be bandied about lightly, but it’s a label the Maroons are increasingly beginning to earn. “There was definitely a realization that we still need to work on dominating other teams consistently,” fourth-year Isis Smalls said. “What is different about us this year is that we have the confidence to expect and demand that out of ourselves.”
And so the Maroons have built their expectations of perfection—not upon hubris but upon sensible truth—knowing that their win against Wheaton was to be anticipated but the process of victory was still to be qualified.
“Wheaton is normally a pretty tough gym to play at and we knew that it was going to be a battle with this team,” head coach Vanessa Walby testified. “Our main goal was to not allow the match to go five games.”
“We have a history of going five games with Wheaton and that is something we were looking to change,” fourth-year Colleen Belak said.
“Wheaton is unlike any team we’ve played yet this season,” second-year Nikki DelZenero said. “They have incredibly scrappy defense paired with an offense that relies on tips and a quick tempo outside set.”
“At the end of Game 1 we were content with how we started and wanted to fine tune and improve on our game as the night progressed,” Smalls said.
But the Maroons’s leisure was soon to encounter a tempest of the tenacious Thunder. “I would say it was the inability to put our entire game together that made us struggle [in the second game],” Smalls said. “When we had a great pass off of serve receive we didn’t terminate the ball for a point and vice versa. We needed for our offense and defense to be hot at the same time.”
The skies would part for Chicago as they captured the third game to put them in the advantage, with the crucial homestretch still to run.
“The fourth game was heavily contested,” Belak said. “We were up by several points, but they came back towards the end and we struggled to put the necessary string of points together to win quickly.”
“I am really excited about how calm we were in Game 4 compared to previous high pressure situations we’ve encountered this year,” Smalls said. “I believe Wheaton had game point twice within that battle to 29 points, but for some reason there was still a persistent confidence and calmness to the court those last few points.”
“I think we can also attribute that to the growth we’ve made in learning to trust one another to handle their responsibilities on the court so we can get the job done as a team,” Smalls said.
The Maroons emerged from the fires of their own trials with a 25-19, 19-25, 25-16, 29-27 win which saw third-year Caroline Brander execute a season-high 17 kills and fellow third-year Katie Trela match her own season-high 12 kills. The Maroons had 59 kills in total and 75 defensive digs.
“I think that the one thing that we could have done better was our blocking,” Walby listed as an area for improvement. “That is normally one of our strongest points and we were lacking that strength a little bit on Friday.”
“We didn’t play poorly in the match, but we didn’t play exceptionally either,” Belak qualified. “We see Wheaton again this season and the goal will certainly be to win the match in three, as we all believe we are capable of doing so.”
In the meantime, the Maroons will have to pocket thoughts of restitution in favor of a second UAA round-robin in the near future with the game against #2 WashU looming.
“I think that for this upcoming conference weekend we just need to come into practice, work hard to fine tune some of our fundamentals and just be mentally ready for a tough weekend of play,” Walby said.