Volleyball extends SLIAC win streak to 11 matches

Sophomore middle hitter Sam Kersting (left) and sophomore outside hitter Jordan Vehlewald (right) both rush to the ball during the Tuesday night’s match at Fontbonne University, which the Gorloks won 3-0. Webster’s win put its SLIAC-match winning streak at 11 matches with two SLIAC contests remaining. PHOTO BY VICTORIA CASWELL.

The Webster University volleyball team has won 33 consecutive sets in St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference play, giving the team an 11-match winning streak against SLIAC opponents.

The Gorloks continued their almost-untarnished record in the SLIAC with wins against Spalding University on Saturday, Oct. 20, and Fontbonne University on Tuesday, Oct. 23. Both victories came on the road with a final score of 3-0 in favor of the Gorloks.

The trend is all or nothing for Webster this season; no conference match has gone more than three sets. Only once have the Gorloks lost in conference.

“It’s hard to go 3-0 in a game,” Webster coach Merry Graf said. “They have done a nice job of just staying focused and just beating the opponent that they’re playing that day.”

The only SLIAC team to defeat Webster this season was first-place Greenville College. That was a 3-0 loss on Sept. 15 played at a neutral site. Webster got its revenge with a 3-0 win at home against Greenville on Oct. 9.

Webster is a half-game back of Greenville and the two will fight for home-court advantage in the SLIAC tournament on Nov. 3. With only two SLIAC matches remaining, Webster’s only hope for first place is to win at Eureka College and Principia College, a team the Gorloks beat earlier this season. A win by Blackburn College over Greenville would also benefit Webster. However, Blackburn is 0-15 in conference play this season.

“It is our overall goal to get the first seed,” said Emily Ratkewicz, sophomore middle hitter. “Even then, we know, first or second, it won’t matter and we’ll play our best and take care of business.”

Graf and the team are prepared to go on the road if needed for the SLIAC tournament. Webster defeated Greenville in 2011 to advance to the NCAA Division-III tournament.

“Since there are so many returning starters, I think they feel pretty confident that we can win wherever we are,” Graf said.

Of the nine players who competed against Greenville in the conference championship last season, seven are still with the team this season.

Jenny Howard, sophomore outside hitter, remembers playing against Greenville last season in the conference tournament, and beating Greenville 3-0. She remembers the crowd being the biggest factor in that game. Fontbonne brought a rowdy crowd Tuesday night, yelling, “I love you, Jenny,” to quote the movie “Forrest Gump.”

“I always like fun crowds that yell and stuff, and it just pumps us up even more,” Howard said.

Webster was also tested in a match earlier in the week, going a full five sets for the first time this season. On Saturday, Oct. 20 against Hanover College (Ind.), Webster went down early, losing the first two sets.

“I don’t even know who that team was,” Graf said. “It was not the team I’m used to working with.”

Webster battled back to force a fifth set, but wasn’t able to keep the momentum, losing 15-11 in the final set. Graf said she thinks it was good for the team to finally experience a match like that before the Gorloks play postseason volleyball.

“I’m proud of them for hanging in there, even though we didn’t have a lot of kills or blocks in that match,” Graf said. “It’s just really important in those 15-point games to jump out early, and we were behind most of that set.”

In that match, the Gorloks were almost playing themselves. Hanover used the same defensive style Webster employs.

Up next, Webster hosts Central Methodist University on Thursday, Oct. 25 at Grant Gymnasium at 7 p.m. The Gorloks have only two conference matches remaining and will need wins in both to have a chance at the No. 1 seed. The top four SLIAC teams have clinched postseason spots: Greenville, Webster, Principia and Westminster College, currently ranked in that order.

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