A historic season for the UChicago women’s volleyball team ended in a historic and thrilling showdown over the weekend. Hosting the NCAA Tournament for just the second time in program history, the team advanced to the program’s first-ever Sweet 16, where they fell to the Carthage Lady Reds in tightly contested five sets. The Maroons had previously defeated Carthage earlier in the season by a score of 3–1. In front of a raucous crowd at Ratner, the No. 2 Maroons and the No. 4 Lady Reds match-up lived up to its billing as the teams played with an intensity and skill more befitting a Final Four.
The Maroons took the first set by the narrowest of margins, 26–24. Tied at 16 all, the Lady Reds strung together four quick points and led 24–20 before the Maroons won six straight points to win the set. The outside hitter tandem of second-year Temilade Adekoya and third-year Fredericka Paulson led the comeback effort with two kills apiece in this pivotal run. The grit and resilience of the team in the first set, where they faced four match points, defined the match as the Maroons fought until the bitter end.
The Carthage team then seized the momentum, winning the second and third sets. Carthage jumped out to a 10–3 lead that they never relinquished. Each time the Maroons rallied, the Lady Reds responded and the early deficit proved too much to overcome. The Maroons came within a single point several times but a late hot streak allowed the visiting side to tie the match at one set apiece with a 25–21 victory. This hot streak continued on into the third set, where an early 9–1 lead resulted in a 25–17 set win for the Lady Reds.
In a pivotal fourth set, the Maroons pieced together another impressive comeback to keep their season alive. The Lady Reds again had an early lead, but the Maroons were able to trim the 11–4 lead to 11–9 with a 5–0 spurt and tie it all at 13–13. While Carthage hung onto a 21–20 lead, Chicago finished the set strong, winning the final five points to force the decisive fifth set.
And what a final set it was. The two teams undeniably left their all on their court, to slip into cliché. The teams traded points back and forth, and multiple points extended into long rallies as the teams attacked and returned over the net. The Maroons had a 12–11 edge, but the Lady Reds finished with the crucial four points to win the set and advance to the Elite Eight.
In the post-match interviews, the term “special” continually arose. “It’s a really special group… everybody having each other’s back, every point.… Having that mindset and playing with a group that is so driven and relentless is so much fun,” third-year Katherine Wilson said.
“That’s a special group when you can bring people together who just respect each other so much and they celebrate each other’s successes.… And when you get to coach that every day, that’s pretty remarkable,” head coach Sharon Dingman said.
The 2019 Chicago volleyball season has certainly exceeded all expectations. The team experienced its best regular season in history with a final record 28–4 that included a program-record 23-game winning streak and the first-ever top national ranking. While the Maroons hope to build off this success, the team will return to 2020 without a trio of important fourth-years: All-Regional Madison Pearson, All–UAA Anne Marie Stifter, and former All–UAA Anabella Pinton. The program has grown immeasurably in their time in Hyde Park, and their legacy will forever be remembered due in large part to this past season. In a season of firsts, the Chicago volleyball team proved that the lasting image of this team will be of determination, talent, and spirit—a magical combination that resulted in a magical season.