The Webster University women’s volleyball team, coaching staff and members of the athletic department gathered in room 109 of the East Academic Building on Nov. 10 to watch the selection show for the NCAA Division III national volleyball championship.
With their St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) tournament championship on Nov. 8, Webster was guaranteed a place in the NCAA tournament, and at 10 a.m. the team was waiting to find out their tournament fate. Senior outside hitter Jenny Howard said there was tension in the room
“There was this big feeling of anticipation,” Howard said. “We were all wondering what region they were going to announce and what region we were going to play in.”
But that feeling would not last long, as the team would be playing in the first game announced on the show. They will be playing Emory University, from Atlanta, in the first round of the tournament at the WU Field House on Washington University’s campus.
Webster will have much more of a home field advantage, but Emory, who was no. 6 in the nation at season’s end, will have an advantage on the court. But Head Coach Merry Graf said that would not discourage them.
“We know going in that it is going to be a tough opponent,” Graf said. “But you know what, there’s going to be an upset somewhere, so why not us.”
Two days before they awaited their NCAA Tournament fate, the team prepared for the SLIAC tournament.
Webster was the No. 2 seed after a 15-3 conference record during the regular season. Webster dropped five of its final seven matches heading into the conference season. Graf said its regular season was a not what they were expecting.
Howard said the team was dealing with confidence and health issues heading into the conference season, but put the early struggles behind them. The team won 15 of 18 conference games, and beat every team in the conference other than the regular season champions, Greenville College.
Before taking the court for the first time in the SLIAC tournament at Greenville College, Greenville was eliminated by the lowest seeded team in the tournament, Spalding University.
“We had talked about it the week before, I told them they needed to respect everyone in the tournament because any one of those teams, if they had a good day, could have won the tournament,” Graf said.
Webster faced Westminster University in its first round matchup. They split the season series, with the home team winning three sets to nothing in each game.
Webster won the first set, 25-16 and the second set 27-25. Webster lost the third set, 18-25, but still led the match two sets to one. In the fourth set, Webster’s defense made the difference. A pair of blocks from Sam Kersting and Emi Beining tied the set at 20 and turned the momentum. Webster closed out the set and match with a 25-23 win.
Howard led the team in kills in the first game with 18, and continued her performance in the finals.
Webster jumped out to an early lead with a first set win against Spalding, 25-22. In the second set, Webster jumped out to a 10-5 lead, but Spalding stormed back to tie the set at 12. Webster was out to a 21-18 lead later in the set, but Spalding came back again to take a 22-23 lead before Webster finished off the set by winning the final three points, won a back and forth contest, winning the set 25-23. The third set was rarely in doubt, with Webster winning 25-19.
Howard had 13 kills in the 3-0 victory, and was named tournament MVP.
This gave Webster their fourth straight SLIAC tournament championship, and their eighth in the last nine years. Howard said winning the conference was something that the team with eight seniors was set on doing.
“For the seniors that had been here for four years, we never knew anything but winning conference,” Howard said. “So we wanted to keep it going.”
Webster’s NCAA first round game will be at 3 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 14.