December 5, 2019

Webster volleyball NCAA Division III tournament Round 1 preview

The Webster University volleyball team will take on Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Ill., in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Friday, Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. Elmhurst, who won national championships in 1983 and ’85, is a competitive opponent and a place Webster coach Merry Graf said she remembers vividly.

“We played in a tournament up there that I … remember because one of my players got a black eye and played through that really well,” Graf said.

Elmhurst College Bluejays

The Gorloks come into the match with a 24-9 overall record and a 15-1 mark in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. After winning the SLIAC championship on Saturday, Nov. 3 in Greenville, Ill., the Gorloks locked up a berth in the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year and for the fifth time in the last six years.

Webster and the Elmhurst Bluejays have battled on the hardwood in the past. In 2006 and 2009, the Gorloks fell to Elmhurst in regular-season matches.

Elmhurst, a College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin member, played to a 29-7 overall record. The Bluejays are currently ranked ninth in the nation in NCAA Division III volleyball.

Webster and Elmhurst both played common opponents this season. Against Illinois Wesleyan University, both the Bluejays and Gorloks came out on top, 3-2. Elmhurst was able to top Millikin University (Ill.) this year, a school Webster fell to early in the season. Both teams tussled against perennial powerhouse Washington University, and both had the same result — a loss.

“We really try to schedule a tough schedule that’s going to help us down the stretch if we make it to the postseason,” Graf said. “There were several teams along the way that we played that I think pushed us and challenged us to become a better team as we went down the home stretch.”

Graf said the team will approach the tournament one step at a time.

“I think there’s a lot of talent in our bracket,” Graf said. “To think that we’re playing the No. 2 seed and they’re ranked ninth in the country, that’s a pretty tough bracket. It is one opponent, one game, one day at a time.”

Graf knows the national tournament may be a tough place to play, and the pressure can get to players. However, she wants Webster to be calm, collected and have fun.

“What I’ve experienced in the past is sometimes you get players that get to this level, they get to the national tournament, and they almost freeze a little bit,” Graf said. “I just really want my players to be relaxed and play the best game they can play. That’s all you can ask of them, because, yes, it’s a quality opponent, but — you know what — at some point, I know that we’re capable of winning against these strong teams. Why not now?”

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