[img id="110881" align="left"/]The Maroons may be UAA champions, but it didn’t take long for them to realize that none of their opponents at the NCAA tournament will care.
After a brief scare in the second and third sets, No. 16 Chicago (27–10) won its first round match in the NCAA DIII tournament 3–1 over Buffalo State (25–10) yesterday, advancing to face No. 10 Wittenberg University (24–8) in the second round later today.
Coming off of an impressive victory in one of the most difficult conferences in the country (four of the eight teams in the UAA are competing in the national tournament), Chicago entered its game against the unranked Bengals as definite favorites.
A dominant first set showed why. The Maroons won 11 of the first 15 points of the opener, running out to a 25–13 set victory and taking a 1–0 lead in the match. But Buffalo wasn’t ready to quit just yet.
The Bengals kept things close in a back-and-forth second set, refusing to allow Chicago maintain its momentum from the first. Trailing the Maroons 24–23, Buffalo saved set point, won the next two points to even the match at 1–1, and jumped to a 9–2 lead in the third set.
If Chicago had any illusions about the difficulty of competing at the national tournament, they disappeared quickly as Buffalo threatened to put the match beyond its reach.
“Obviously we didn’t put it together quite as quickly as we would have liked; that second set got away from us,” said fourth-year setter Nikki DelZenero. “But we came back from a big deficit in the third and took it from there.”
The Maroons worked their way back to tie the set at 19–19 and won six of the next seven points to win it 25–20. That mini comeback sparked Chicago, who settled back into its dominant form of the first set to close out the match with a 25–14 fourth-set victory and to advance to the second round. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but at this stage of the season, winning is all that matters.
“Even though we relaxed a little in the second set and gave ourselves a large deficit in the third set, we were able to clean up our game and pull off a win,” said second-year outside hitter Maren Loe.
Second-year outside hitter Jasmine Mobley starred for the Maroons, recording 18 kills, including four at the tail end of that crucial third set. Loe was also prominent on offense, racking up 15 kills and 11 digs.
“It’s great to get a first-round win under our belts,” DelZenero said. “We didn’t know a ton about Buffalo since they’re not in our region and we haven’t seen them before, but they put up a great fight.
“Our offense was pretty consistent, and Jasmine Mobley played a great match.”
The Maroons now turn their attention to the match against Wittenberg. Buffalo was a relatively straightforward first-round draw, but there will be nothing easy about Chicago’s second-round match.
Still, the Maroons will take comfort in the way they have performed against top-10 teams this year, and their victory in the UAA Championship game over No. 7 Emory remains fresh in their memories.
“We’re really excited to play Wittenberg tomorrow and get past the second round—something our program hasn’t done before,” DelZenero said. “It should be a tough match, but we’re really pumped.”
The game against Wittenberg is scheduled to begin at 3:30 p.m. this afternoon in Grand Rapids, MI.