November 28, 2020

The Sporting Insider

Let’s Get Offensive

Josh Sellmeyer

Josh Sellmeyer, Journal sports editor

It wasn’t the worst loss in the tradition-rich history of the Webster University volleyball program. No, not even close. The Gorloks’ 3-0 loss to Washington University in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament wasn’t a result that shocked anyone familiar with either team.
Webster actually played well in stretches, particularly midway through the first and last sets and at the beginning of set three. But the Gorloks simply weren’t good enough against the mighty Bears, who entered the contest with a 32-1 record.
There is nothing the Webster volleyball players should hang their heads about. The Gorloks finished the season with a 19-13 overall record and won their fifth SLIAC tournament title in six years. It was unanticipated success for a team that routinely started four freshmen and a sophomore.
It’s the way in which the Gorloks lost to WashU that has me a bit concerned. For a majority of the match, Webster seemed content to give their cross-town rivals free ball after free ball. The Gorloks just lobbed the ball over the net and got their defense set for the WashU attack.
Of the 43 points the Gorloks scored in their 25-17, 25-9, 25-17 loss, only 18 were kills. Meanwhile, 68 percent of WashU’s points came via the kill. It’s difficult to contain an attack as potent as the Bears’. Give that attack three or four chances during a point, and you will pay.
Even though Webster played a very strong match defensively, WashU’s offense eventually found holes and exploited them. An elite attack does that. But playing a defensive-minded game against a top-notch opponent is going to yield the straight-set result the Gorloks ended up with.
Granted, a team with quality players like WashU can force you out of your comfort zone and into a defensive shell. The Bears’ net players routinely smashed the ball, and before the Gorloks could even set up their attack, they had already touched the ball once or twice.
In pretty much every collegiate sport, a team plays a defensive style when it’s outgunned and/or apprehensive. With all the experienced and nationally-celebrated players the Bears had, it’s safe to say WashU coach Rich Luenemann had a personnel advantage over Webster coach Merry Graf.
It’s also safe to say, based on the result, WashU had a psychological advantage. The Bears had history on their side, as they were 19-0 all-time against Webster entering the Nov. 11 match. That’s a daunting history for the Gorloks to be up against.
So it’s understandable that many Webster players had major nerves to overcome early in the match. It was, after all, the first time five of Webster’s six starters played in an NCAA tournament match.
Still, the only way I think the Gorloks could have pulled the miracle upset would have been by endlessly attacking WashU. Put the pressure on the Bears in their home gymnasium. Take them out of their comfort zone by making them play defensively. Easier said than done, I know.
The Gorloks have a good shot at making it back to the national tournament next year. Greenville and Spalding will have something to say about that, but I wouldn’t bet against a building Webster team.
And if/when Webster does make it back to the NCAA tournament, WashU — or a team similar to the Bears — will be waiting. With a more experienced team and a more attack-driven approach, the Gorloks will increase their odds of advancing.
That’s always been the goal. This Webster team has a chance to make it a reality.

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