The Webster University volleyball team had its season come to an end with a first-round loss to Washington University in the NCAA Division III tournament. WashU, the No. 2-ranked team in the country, beat the Gorloks 3-0 (25-17, 25-9, 25-17) on Nov. 11 at WashU.
A lot would have had to go right for Webster to upset the heavily favored Bears, but Webster coach Merry Graf was proud of her team for giving it their all.
“It would’ve taken us having a good day and them having an off day,” Graf said. “I was proud of the girls for competing. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find ways to score against their defense.”
The loss marked the end of Webster volleyball for six seniors: Jennifer Hoerber, Caroline Kargus, Elizabeth Linck, Kelly McClure, Lindsay Morris and Gretchen Rieger.
For McClure, the loss was tough, but making it to the NCAA tournament made her senior season a memorable one.
“I’ve been to the NCAA tournament two times before this, three times now,” McClure said. “(The loss) was definitely heartbreaking, but I’m glad we made it there. It was bittersweet.”
Graf credited the six seniors for the team’s success this year, as the Gorloks finished the season with a 19-13 overall record. Graf said the seniors mentored the freshmen and stepped aside to give the underclassmen more playing time.
“All of them got some playing time this year, but the leadership out of that group was key,” Graf said. “It’s always worrisome when you bring in a group like this group of freshmen. They have a lot of talent, and you’re not sure how the senior leadership is going to react. They’ve handled it very gracefully.
“They wanted them on the court because they knew they were the best candidates for the job. They did a good job of taking those young girls under their wing and helping them be successful.”
Outside hitter Jenny Howard was among the freshmen playing in their first NCAA tournament.
“We were very excited to be in the tournament,” Howard said. “It’s a really great feeling.”
Four freshmen started for the Gorloks this year on a regular basis: Howard, setter Allie O’Toole, middle hitter Emily Ratkewicz and outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald. With these four players returning for the next three years, Webster is poised to win more St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championships.
“Even though we’re young, we are very talented,” Howard said. “We’re going to grow closer as a team and as players. It’s extremely exciting to know I have three more years with these girls.”
Graf spoke highly of the freshman class this year, and she hopes to add another one just like it.
“Looking back, this is the best recruiting class I’ve had,” Graf said. “It’s very exciting. The future is definitely bright for Webster volleyball. I’d like to follow this up with another recruiting class just as strong.”
While the Gorloks’ 12 returning players begin to look ahead to next year, McClure looks back on her memorable four years on Webster’s volleyball team.
“I had a lot of fun,” McClure said. “I wouldn’t have wanted to play with any other group of girls. It sucks that it’s over. I definitely had memories from all four years, but this year was pretty awesome.”