Webster Classics: Volleyball team dominates with winning streak

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Abby Sanson and her team were extremely focused in their 2009 season. They had a winning streak on the line and they weren’t going to let it end.

For a span of two seasons, the Webster University Gorloks volleyball team was dominant in conference play. Webster went 32-0 in matches against fellow St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) schools in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, and in those two perfect seasons, it had a set record of 96-11.

The winning streak started for Webster on Oct. 16, 2007 with a win against Lincoln Christian University, and eight straight wins to finish off the 2007 season which secured the team’s fifth regular-season championship and sixth conference win. Coach Merry Graf had just won her second regular season and conference tournament championships, and she said the goal for the 2008 season was to focus on beating each opponent.

“Streaks aren’t really ever part of my focus or strategy,” Graf said. “As coach, I try to remind the players to just take one game and match at a time and focus on what we need to do.”

The 2008 team wasn’t missing much: only two seniors were on the 2007 squad, and having almost the entire roster returning for the next season was a huge boost for the team.

“It was great to have a deep roster—with great on-court experience—returning in 2008,” Graf said. “The two players that were seniors in 2007, Crystal Shelton and Chrissy Engle, both rank in our top 5 for career matches played at Webster. The level of comfort they had on the court was helpful to the underclassmen, and the leadership and overall talent was a winning combination. They truly loved to compete every day and worked hard to stay at the top of our conference.”

Leading the way for the Gorlok attack during those seasons was Jackie Schall, an outside hitter/right side that put up 227 kills in 2008 and 362 in 2009. On defense, saving the day the most, was defensive specialist Sarah Bailey, who accumulated 374 digs in 2008 and 468 for 2009.

Volleyball coach Merry Graf speaks with her team during a game in an
archived photo. Graf coached the team during its undefeated 2008
and 2009 seasons. PHOTO BY DAVID BROOME

Schall and junior Erin Grobe would be named to the First-Team All Conference in 2008, with junior Nicole Buse getting Second-Team nods as well as SLIAC Newcomer of the Year. Sarah Rusnak and junior Abby Sanson (née Williams) received honorable mentions. The Gorloks would sweep Principia College 3-0 in the tournament championship match for their second straight championship. Webster started looking to the future and for what they hoped to be a commanding 2009 season.

“After having so much success in 2008, our team was extremely focused on keeping our SLIAC win streak alive,” Sanson said. “We wanted to take it to the next level so we prepared on and off the court to make sure that we continued to build a winning culture. We were an extremely competitive group, and we truly felt like we left a mark on the program’s history.”

For 2008, the Gorloks had lost five sets against conference opponents. In 2009, the team would only lose six sets, winning 48 en route to another regular season and SLIAC tournament championship. The Gorloks won handily in every regular-season conference match in the 2009 season, with none of the matches going a full five sets. The only match against a conference opponent that season that went the distance was the SLIAC tournament championship game against Greenville University, where Webster won for their third straight conference title.

The Gorloks secured its two perfect seasons, and the unbeaten conference run went into 2010, lasting another five matches until an Oct. 2 loss against Spalding University. During the entirety of the winning streak—spanning 2007-2010 with the two perfect seasons in the middle—Webster won 45 consecutive conference matches with a set record of 135-16 during that stretch. In the SLIAC tournament, the team was undefeated, going 6-0 in their matches and 18-2 in sets.

Since then, the Gorloks have won three additional regular-season conference championships and four tournament titles—the 12 cumulative tournament championships owned by the volleyball team is the most by any Webster sport. Graf is still coaching the Gorloks to winning seasons, and come February, she’ll get a shot at doing it once again.

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Michael Langston
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