The Maroons (20–9, 6–1 UAA) will play the last four matches of their regular season this weekend at the Benedictine Tournament in Lisle, Illinois. Chicago is ranked 19th in the nation and is looking to finish the year strong before UAA playoffs.
The South Siders can’t improve their UAA record, but they still have NCAA rankings to consider.
“This is a big weekend for us,” head coach Vanessa Walby said. “We need to get more regional wins.”
The Benedictine Tournament is hosting eight teams from Wisconsin and Illinois, including No. 5 Elmhurst (27–4). The Bluejays swept Chicago in three sets last weekend, but the Maroons won’t get a chance for a rematch in this tournament.
Chicago opens the tournament on Friday afternoon against North Central (10–18). Later in the evening, the Maroons will take on Concordia-Chicago (4–18). These two teams have weaker records than the South Siders, but Chicago isn’t ready to write them off.
“This weekend will be the first time all year we’ve seen [any] of the teams we’re playing,” said fourth-year setter Nikki DelZenero.
Even though the Maroons haven’t played any of the teams they will face this weekend, their approach is the same as it always is.
“We need to stick to our game plan and prove to ourselves that we can completely put together some solid matches,” DelZenero said.
The competition will be more intense on Saturday. The Maroons will take on Carthage (19–12), followed by DePauw (21–4). “[Neither] of them are ranked…but DePauw is doing really well this year,” DelZenero said.
Even though DePauw competes primarily in a different conference, they’ve had a strong season. The Tigers have averaged 13 kills per set this year while the Maroons have averaged just over 12. Both teams have similar stats in many other categories as well.
“The girls are going to have to come out and play against every single team because they are all going to be tough,” Walby said.
Chicago has three players with over 200 kills this year. If the Maroons do well against aggressive teams like DePauw and Carthage, fourth-year right-side hitter Katie Huntington, fourth-year middle blocker Maggie Vaughn, and second-year outside hitter Maren Loe will all need to get their share of attacks.
Loe leads the team in kills per set, but Chicago has five players averaging over two kills per set. This is largely due to DelZenero’s impressive 7.23 assists per set. An emphasis on teamwork has always been crucial to the South Siders’ success.
“We need to focus so that we can come together and play as a team in order to prepare for our next big weekends,” said first-year setter and right-side hitter Erin Risk.
After the Benedictine Tournament, Chicago will play in UAA playoffs, hopefully followed by a run in the NCAA tournament. Even though the regular season is ending, the Maroons still have a lot to keep playing for.
Chicago will begin against North Central at 2 p.m. this afternoon.