The Webster volleyball team downed Fontbonne University in straight sets to stay within striking distance…
Volleyball team dominates three SLIAC foes, attains seven-match win streak
The Webster University volleyball team lost three matches in a span of two days on Sept. 9 and 10, which dropped the team’s record to 2-3. But since a 3-0 loss to Illinois Wesleyan University on Sept. 10, the Gorloks have been nearly flawless over the past month.
Webster has won 10 of its last 11 matches — including seven straight — to improve to 12-4 overall and 9-1 in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play. The Gorloks are second in the SLIAC standings and are nipping at the heels of first-place Spalding University, which is 11-10 overall and 8-0 in the conference.
This past week, Webster defeated Fontbonne University 3-0 (25-12, 25-9, 25-13) and Principia College 3-0 (25-16, 28-26, 25-19) on Oct. 1 at Fontbonne. The Gorloks capped off a perfect week by downing Eureka College 3-0 (25-15, 25-14, 25-19) in an Oct. 4 road match.
Coach Merry Graf said the Gorloks’ thrilling 3-2 road win over rival Greenville College on Sept. 27 gave the team a momentum boost. Prior to that victory, Greenville had defeated Webster four times in a row.
In the match against Greenville, the Webster players were able to keep their nerves under control, which helped the Gorloks win the decisive fifth set. Freshman outside hitter Jenny Howard said the team’s calm attitude has been a big factor in the Gorloks’ recent winning streak.
“I definitely think that us being very calm and collected has something to do with it,” Howard said. “Our biggest win so far has definitely been against Greenville. Their fans were crazy, and it was just a really insane environment, but we stayed calm. That win against Greenville gave us a lot of confidence, and I think that’s why we’re on a win streak right now.”
Howard has been a standout player for Webster this season, and she continued her outstanding play this past week. She had a team-best six kills against Fontbonne, and also had 12 digs. For the season, Howard leads the Gorloks in kills (152) and digs (183).
Webster’s ability to handle pressure was put to the test in the second set against Principia. The Panthers held the lead for a majority of the set and were threatening to tie the match at 1. Down 22-19, Webster battled back to take the set and control of the match.
“We did get in that little stretch of games with Principia where we got a little frazzled,” Graf said. “We talked about it; it doesn’t matter who the opponent is, you always want to have that calm front. Just make sure that you’re taking care of business every single day.”
In the matches against Fontbonne (2-8 overall, 2-5 in SLIAC play) and Principia (7-12 overall, 4-5 in SLIAC play), Graf instructed the Gorloks to attack the middle of the Fontbonne and Principia defense, which she felt was the teams’ biggest weakness.
The strategy worked out well, as middle hitters Emily Ratkewicz, Lindsay Morris and Lindsey Taylor recorded a combined 11 kills against Fontbonne.
“The more we play together, the more we’ll learn each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Ratkewicz said. “As good as a team can get at that, there’s always room for improvement. If we were the best right now, we wouldn’t reach our goal. The more we keep improving, the better.”
Senior outside hitter Gretchen Rieger also said that despite Webster’s recent hot streak, the Gorloks can sharpen certain aspects of their game.
“For front row, we still need to improve on our blocking,” Rieger said. “We’re working on it — we did better against Principia. We got more touches on their hitters, so that’s good, but we can still always improve on that more. Whenever we’re in tough situations, just being mentally tough and always communicating.”
Next up for the Gorloks is a huge home match against Spalding on Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. at Grant Gymnasium. The winner of that match will have the early edge in the race to win the SLIAC. The Gorloks and Golden Eagles will face off once more later in the year on Oct. 22 in Clayton.
“I know they’re a talented squad,” Graf said. “They beat Greenville in three. However, Greenville had just finished playing us in a five-game match. We’re near the top, I think, and we can beat anybody in our conference. It’s just about playing smart and strategic and using our strengths against their weaknesses.”