The Webster University volleyball team had its streak of four consecutive St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference titles snapped by Greenville College in last year’s championship match. This year, the Gorloks had the opportunity to begin a new streak in the SLIAC tournament championship game on Nov. 5 against none other than last year’s nemesis, the Greenville Panthers.
After winning the first two sets of its conference championship match against Greenville, Webster was one point away from the title with a 24-21 lead in the third set. But Greenville would not go down without a fight, as the Panthers cut the lead to 24-23.
Webster stopped Greenville’s comeback attempt short when senior outside hitter Kelly McClure hit the ball past a Panther defender to secure the SLIAC championship for Webster.
“They scored a couple on us,” Webster coach Merry Graf said. “We needed to shut it down and finish it out before they had any more momentum. If they tie it 24-24, that’s going to make a world of difference in their mind.”
Webster defeated Greenville 3-0 (25-16, 25-19, 25-23) to give the Gorloks their ninth SLIAC championship in program history.
Webster had won four straight SLIAC championships before losing to Greenville in last year’s championship game.
“My explanation is we took last year off,” Graf said, “and we really didn’t enjoy it.”
Last year’s loss may have fueled the fire this year, as Webster got off to a solid start in the first set against Greenville. After trailing 3-2, Webster went on a 14-1 run to take the lead 16-4. The Gorloks went on to win the set 25-16.
A key run by Webster in the second game set the tone for the rest of the game. Trailing 10-4 and having the support of the home crowd behind them, the Gorloks went on a 9-0 run to take a 13-10 lead. Webster rode the momentum to win the second set 25-19.
“(The crowd) was a huge factor,” sophomore outside hitter Liz Abraham said. “We had a ton of our fans there. It was definitely home-court advantage.”
Possibly a bigger advantage was playing the semi-final match earlier in the day than Greenville, who played after Webster.
The Gorloks defeated Westminster College 3-0 (25-20, 25-14, 25-23) to advance to the championship game.
Greenville had to play five long sets in order to beat Principia College. Webster had four hours in between its semi-final match and the championship match, while Greenville only had an hour of rest after its five-set match.
Abraham believes this played a role in how well Webster was able to play against Greenville.
“I’m positive it did,” Abraham said. “They played five hard games with Principia, so I’m sure they were worn out by the time they played us.”
Despite having only an hour in between matches, Webster knew Greenville was still very talented and would give the Gorloks a battle.
“Our game was really on point and sharp,” freshman outside hitter Jenny Howard said. “We knew Greenville was a very talented team—they had some really good hitters. We had to play them tough and block them—we did just that. We slowed them down in the beginning and kind of got in their heads.”
The victory over Greenville gives Webster its fifth SLIAC championship in six years.
“It meant a lot because we take pride in our program and we worked really hard,” Howard said.
After the match, numerous SLIAC awards were given out to Webster players. Howard was named SLIAC Newcomer of the Year. Howard joined Abraham and freshman outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald on the All-Tournament team. Vehlewald was named MVP of the tournament, as she recorded 31 kills in the two matches, including 13 against Greenville.
Howard was also named to the All-Conference first team. Vehlewald, freshman middle hitter Emily Ratkewicz and senior middle hitter Caroline Kargus were named to the All-Conference second team. Freshman setter Allie O’Toole and senior outside hitter Gretchen Rieger earned an honorable mention.
Rieger was also named to the All-Sportsmanship team. Webster won the sportsmanship award for the first time as well, sharing the award with Westminster.
Graf received her third SLIAC Coach of the Year honor, sharing it with Principia coach Mary Ann Sprague.
Webster begins play in the first round of the NCAA tournament on Nov. 11 at 8 p.m. at Washington University, the No. 3 team in the country.