Volleyball

The Emory volleyball team fell short this weekend in the East-West Challenge in Claremont, Calif., finishing with a record of 1-2. The Eagles faced tough competition — the tournament featured six teams ranked in the top 30 in the nation, according to the most recent American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III poll.

The No. 6 Eagles faced three teams, losing to the No. 13 Juniata College (Pa.) 3-2 and the No. 3 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (CMS) (Calif.) 3-1 on Sept. 14. The Eagles closed out the tournament by defeating the No. 28 University of Texas at Dallas (UT Dallas) 3-1 on Sept. 15.

In their opening match against Juniata, the Eagles suffered a 3-2 defeat, rallying for a 2-1 lead after the third set, but fell behind Juniata in the final two sets. The team took control of the second and third sets with stellar defensive efforts, capping Juniata to a combined hitting percentage of .101.  

After the five-set game, the Eagles were defeated by host CMS in a four-set match. Emory trailed CMS in both hitting percentage (.211-.160) and total blocks (12-6).  

The pair of losses on Friday marked the end of a six-game win streak, setting the Eagles’ overall record at 8-3.   

In their closing match, the Eagles topped UT Dallas, winning three of four sets 25-22, 25-22 and 25-21, respectively, dropping only the second set 21-25.

Junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight led the team’s season-high 59 kills with 14 individual kills, celebrating her sixth double-digit game of the season. Senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik served a .393 kill percentage in 28 total attempts, making a total of 13 kills, while both senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach and sophomore right side hitter Leah Saunders added 11 and 10 kills each to the Eagles’ offensive campaign. Senior setter Mady Arles completed a career-high of 48 assists and a team-high of four blocks.

Despite the two losses, Head Coach Jenny McDowell acknowledged that the team showed great perseverance throughout the tournament.

“It was a challenging but great weekend for us,” McDowell said. “I love the way our team responded after the losses on Saturday. [Their response] tells me so much about the heart and character of our team.”

McKnight added that the team learned a lot from the weekend’s losses and emphasized the importance of finishing strong.

“We learned a lot of things about ourselves,” McKnight said. “We can work through our tiredness and bounce back from bad losses. We also learned that the game doesn’t end until the final whistle. Learning to be able to finish and terminate no matter the lead we may or may not have will be vital to our success.”

The Eagles return to the court on Sept. 29, where they will face the University of Rochester (N.Y.) and New York University in the University Athletic Association (UAA) Round Robin I in Waltham, Mass.

“We are definitely headed in the right direction with tremendous leadership and a deep desire to be great,” McDowell said.

Editor’s Note: Karissa Dzurik (19B) is a senior staff writer for The Emory Wheel. She was not involved in the composition of this article.

Senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach faces off against two Berry College (Ga.) blockers at the Emory National Tournament on Sept. 7. The Eagles swept the Vikings 3-0. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

The Emory women’s volleyball team swept the competition this weekend at the Emory National Tournament. The Eagles won 3-0 against Transylvania University (Ky.), Otterbein University (Ohio), Berry College (Ga.) and Tufts University (Mass.) and 3-1 against Whitworth University (Wash.).

The weekend puts the Eagles in a six-game win streak and a 7-1 overall season status.

In the first match against the Transylvania Pioneers, junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight posted an impressive 27 attacks and eight kills. The Eagles’ long-serving streaks throughout each of the three sets established their clear lead over the Pioneers.

McKnight gave the Eagles a solid four-point lead with a series of strong serves in the first set. Senior setter Mady Arles’ consistent serves helped the team reach 22 points later in the set. Only in the third set did Transylvania’s final score reach 20 points.

Head Coach Jenny McDowell praised the team’s overall prowess.

“Our strength of the team is the team,” McDowell said.

Emphasizing the contributions of each member in a 29-player team is critical to the overall mentality going into each game. With so many strong players, McDowell has an impressive toolbelt to work with as she makes decisions on who to put on the court.

“It’s always a good sign when you feel like we’ve been together for a few seasons already,” junior outside hitter Sara Carr said. “We’re molding so well together and feeling like we’ve been playing together longer than we have.”

McKnight has been a major asset for the Eagles, and continued to help Emory shine in game two against Berry, making 30 attacks and 12 kills.

Junior libero Elyse Thompson kept the defense strong with 22 digs in the three sets.

Carr said the Berry game was the most memorable of the weekend.

“This was a game of energy,” Carr said. “We did a great job of [keeping] our energy high on our side of the net.”

Berry, a major regional Emory rival, put up a respectable fight, but failed to send the Eagles flying.

“They’d have their big hits, and we had our flashy points,” Carr said. “It was a tough match, but I think we played with a high level of maturity and were able to take it one point at a time.”

The even bigger challenge of the weekend came on Saturday afternoon against Whitworth, the only opponent of the five schools to take a set from the Eagles. While Emory began strong with a 25-17 win in the first set, Whitworth took the second 25-22. Emory battled back to win the third set 25-20 and the fourth 26-24.

McDowell said she is proud of the senior class, a squad of six this year. Seniors such as setter and right side Carly Saitman, defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas and defensive specialist and libero Becky Breuer have served as crucial members of the volleyball program over the past three years and have only matured since beginning to play for McDowell, she said.

Looking forward to over a month on the road, the team hopes to accomplish a series of goals. One of the most important is to find a sense of team culture and personality.

“I think we’re really working to find what this team’s identity is,” McDowell said.

The Eagles will make their way to Claremont, Calif., for the East-West Challenge where they will play Juniata College (Pa.) and Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) on Sept. 14 and the University of Texas at Dallas on Sept. 15.

The Emory women’s volleyball team returned to the court for a weekend series against the Whittier College (Calif.) Poets on Aug. 31 and the Illinois Wesleyan University (Ill.) Titans and Covenant College (Ga.) Scots on Sept. 1.

The Eagles started the season strong with a 3-0 win over Whittier. They then fell to Illinois Wesleyan 3-1 on Sept. 1 but rebounded with a 3-0 victory over the Scots.

Sophomore middle hitter Maggie Rimmel spikes the ball during a matchup in a weekend series. The Eagles started the season strong with a 3-0 win over Whittier College (Calif.) on Aug. 31. The team fell to Illinois Wesleyan University 3-1, but rebounded with a 3-0 victory over Covenant College (Ga.) on Sept. 1. Forrest Martin/Senior Staff

The team debuted eight freshman players this season, but it still suffers from the loss of several players who were injured last season.

Senior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik made a comeback as a key asset for the Eagles after studying abroad last semester. She scored a total of 23.5 points over the course of the team’s three games. Junior outside hitter Sara Carr also made her return this weekend but only to the back row, waiting a few games to fully assume her usual position at the net. Senior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach is expected to return this weekend for her first game of the season after missing the majority of last year.

The team’s new talent also suffered injuries. Freshmen middle hitter and right side Roisin O’Dowd and middle hitter Kaia Johnson are both out with shoulder injuries, while right side Ashley Brennan is benched with a knee jury. Freshmen outside hitter Tara Martin and middle hitter Charlese Blair were injured prior to the season’s start but are now back to playing.

“I think we have a chance to be really good this year,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “Our team came into preseason in great shape, so that was a great start for us.”

In the first game against Whittier, junior outside hitter Morgan McKnight led the team in kills with 17 total. Sophomore right side Leah Saunders trailed her with 13.

“We were really excited to start off the season,” freshman setter Claire Yohann said. “[While] we have a lot to work on, knowing we’re already so competitive is very promising.”

Emory worked off the momentum of the first game to win the first set against Illinois Wesleyan 25-12. However, the Titans came back in the next three sets to attain a narrow victory. The Eagles fell 22-25, 20-25 and 23-25, respectively.

“Illinois Wesleyan is one of the best teams in the country,” McDowell said. “I’m not discouraged [by the results], but more so focused on what we need to do.”

After the weekend’s results, McDowell said the team is focusing on improving blocking skills as well as continuing to build upon serving and passing.

“And communication can always get better, even though —if you’ve been to one of our games — you know we’re a pretty loud team,” Yohann added.

Looking ahead, the Eagles face a busy schedule of tough opponents.

“We know we need to fight and claw, but our players want to play the best schedule possible,” McDowell said. “It’s somewhat cliche, but we’re not worried about what anyone else is doing. We’re just focusing on becoming the best we can be.”

The Eagles will host the Emory National Tournament next weekend, where they will face Transylvania University (Ky.) on Sept. 6 at 7 p.m. and Otterbein University (Ohio) and Berry College (Ga.) on Sept. 7 at 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m., respectively. The Eagles will finish out the tournament with games against Whitworth University (Wash.) and Tufts University (Mass.) on Sept. 8 at 1:30 p.m. and 4 p.m., respectively.

Editor’s Note: Karissa Dzurik (19B) is a senior staff writer for the Emory Wheel.

Junior right side hitter Carly Saitman prepares to serve in the Eagles’ quarterfinal matchup with Ithaca College (N.Y.). Courtesy of Jeremy Crawford.

After an impressive 30-7 run, the Emory volleyball team ended their season with a 3-1 loss to Ithaca College (N.Y.) Nov. 16 in the NCAA Division III Championship quarterfinals.

Emory started off strong with a strong 25-13 win in the first set, only to lose the following three sets. They lost the second set 25-17. In the third and fourth sets, the two teams battled into extra points, with Emory losing 26-24 and 28-26.

“If we had told people in September that we were going to make it this far, I’m not sure anyone would have believed us,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “It was a disappointing match, and they played their best while we didn’t play ours.”

The Eagles have made appearances at 21 NCAA tournaments in the past 22 years, so, unlike Ithaca, the team knew how to deal with the pressure in the first match, according to sophomore defensive specialist Elyse Thompson.

Junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas gets set. Courtesy of Jeremy Crawford.

“We know how to handle the pressure, and you can’t come out jittery,” Thompson said. “They clearly were nervous and couldn’t get on their feet.”

But as the Eagles lost momentum, Ithaca seemed only to grow more confident.

“In the next two sets, we weren’t as victorious, but we still lost by only two points in the third and fourth sets,” Thompson said. “Had we had a few more dug balls, a few better serves, we could have survived. And a lot of this tournament is about surviving.”

McDowell said it was difficult to pinpoint a single problem that the Eagles faced while on the court.

“It’s interesting because I think that first set went so well, so, to be honest, I’m not sure what went wrong,” McDowell said. “None of our players were on their A games, including the coaches, so I think it was a combination of one error leading to another.”

While Emory did not play its best in the final game, McDowell saw the glass as half full.

“Experience is invaluable, and we’re going to build off that and strive for excellence,” McDowell said.

The team will now jump straight into strengthening and conditioning and have a short five-week spring season. The team will return next fall with a freshman class that McDowell says she is excited about.

Ithaca fell the following day 3-1 against Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) in the tournament semifinals. Claremont McKenna went on to claim the DIII National Championship title with a 3-0 win against Wittenberg College (Ohio) Nov. 18 in the finals.

Outside hitter Karissa Dzurik (left) and right side hitter Carly Saitman (right) leap for a block in the Eagles’ first round match against Worcester State University (Mass.) Nov. 9. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

The Emory volleyball team won nine straight sets across their three matches Nov. 9 to Nov. 11 to win the 2017 NCAA Division III Atlanta Regional.

Emory won 3-0 against Worcester State University (Mass.) Nov. 9, Christopher Newport University (Va.) Nov. 10 and Berry College (Ga.) Nov. 11.

As regional hosts, the Eagles improved their total home record to 17-1 for the season, their only loss coming at the hands of Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) (Mo.) in the University Athletic Association (UAA) tournament final Nov. 4.

In the first regionals game against Worcester State, the Eagles dominated. But as Head Coach Jenny McDowell noted, “This first match wasn’t an incredibly tough opponent.”

The Eagles have been focusing on serving in practices, and that dedication paid off in the first game. Junior setter Mady Arles, sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr, junior right side Carly Saitman and senior setter Hannah Billings all achieved serving streaks of four or more.

The team also thrived with its net work. Carr attained 27 total attacks and junior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik maintained a .474 kill percentage.

The impressive play continued into the second match for the Eagles, when Christopher Newport hardly stood a chance against the Eagles’ tough offense. Saitman once again thrived with a six-serving streak, forcing Christopher Newport to take not one, but two timeouts in hopes of stymieing Saitman’s aggressive run behind the back line.

The Christopher Newport game also demonstrated Emory’s on-court leadership.

Leaders on the court range from Billings, the team’s sole senior, to younger players like Carr, who brings both an encouraging demeanor and physical talent. Junior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach has also been an important leader for the team, despite having to watch much of the season from the sidelines due to injury. Leimbach leads verbally, according to McDowell.

“We’ve had some great leaders emerge from different classes,” McDowell said. “There’s a real unselfishness on this team.”

Outside hitter Sara Carr (left) prepares a set. Forrest Martin/Contributing

In the regional final, Emory met with a familiar foe in its the third match against Berry this season. Though the Eagles suffered a definitive 3-0 defeat at Berry Oct. 10, Emory bounced back Oct. 28 with a 3-0 sweep of their own to even the season series. With their season on the line, Emory needed to replicate that performance if they wanted to claim the regional crown.

About 250 fans filled the WoodPEC for the final Berry game. Athletes of other Emory teams, with a strong presence from women’s and men’s basketball, crowded onto the bleachers to support their fellow Eagles.

In the final game, the Eagles flourished with a collective 54 digs and use of strategic passing skills. But the team truly shined once again at the net, as demonstrated by the final play of the match.

Starting with a forceful serve from Thompson, Billings set the ball to freshman right side Leah Saunders, who sent the ball back over with a kill. Berry attempted to block the kill, but instead forced the ball out of bounds, delivering the final set and, consequently, the regional title to Emory.

“The championship winning point was an awesome moment,” Billings said.

Billings and McDowell pointed to the importance of team intensity in the practices leading up to their quarterfinal matchup.

“We just have to stay mentally sharp,” McDowell said. “We talk about it all the time: What are the different skills on the court that we can control?”

The team has been succeeding physically, so for Billings it all comes down to the mental game and the attitude her teammates exude on the court.

“My biggest goal for this team is to just have everyone play with confidence, and that’s where we are right now,” Billings said.

The weekend’s wins qualified the Eagles for the NCAA D-III Elite Eight, where they will face off against Ithaca College (N.Y.).

The team will travel to Grand Rapids, Mich., Nov. 14 for a banquet and community service activities before facing off against Ithaca in the quarterfinals Nov. 16 at 12:30 p.m. The winner will proceed to play either Claremont McKenna College (Calif.) or Gustavus Adolphus College (Minn.) in the tournament semifinals Nov. 17 at 5 p.m. The championship will be decided Nov. 18 at 7 p.m.

Karissa Dzurik is a staff writer for the Wheel.

Junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas (left) gets set at the UAA Tournament Nov. 3-5. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

The Emory volleyball team hosted the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships Nov. 3 to Nov. 5 and fought their way to the final match, only to fall 3-1 to one of their biggest rivals, Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) (Mo.).

Emory defeated Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) 3-0 and Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) 3-2 Nov. 3 to reach the championship game. The Eagles fell to WashU in the UAA Championship title match Nov. 4.

Although the Eagles failed to receive an automatic bid from the UAA tournament, they will still proceed to the NCAA Division III postseason.

“We went from being really excited on Friday to being disappointed on Saturday,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “[WashU] was at the top of their game, and we weren’t quite at the top of ours.”

Prior to this deciding match, McDowell’s squad had only played WashU once this season and  lost 3-2. After Saturday’s loss, Emory stands No. 2 in the UAA, behind No. 1 WashU. In NCAA Division III rankings, WashU has a No. 4 ranking in the central region while Emory remains No. 1 in the southern region.

While the Eagles may not have achieved a satisfactory comeback against WashU, McDowell said that she still felt encouraged by the weekend’s results. Emory had lost to Carnegie Mellon earlier this fall during a time that junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas described as a “lull in the season.” To come back on top of Carnegie Mellon was an accomplishment not only for the weekend but also for the season as a whole.

In the first two games of the weekend, McDowell felt encouraged that the team showed improvement in areas that have been of prime focus during practices. One of those areas is the Eagles’ defensive work, which has seen major improvement over the past few weeks.

“I think, in particular, we’ve been working a lot on blocking, which allows our defense to set up a little better and more quickly,” McDowell said.

Sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr, sophomore defensive specialist Elyse Thompson and Barzdukas have been crucial in that blocking strategy. Their ability to read the opposing hitters has improved the Eagles’ overall defensive effort, according to McDowell.

In Friday’s first game against Case Western, sophomore outside hitter Morgan McKnight helped carry her team to victory with 25 total attacks and 11 kills. Freshman right side Leah Saunders had a .588 kill percentage. Emory played some of its best volleyball of the season, never letting Case Western reach 20 points in any set.

Making a swift turnaround between back-to-back matches will always be an obstacle for a team to overcome, but McDowell believes the team did a great job keeping stamina high in adapting between the Case Western and Carnegie Mellon games.

“We had the turnaround, and it’s never easy to play back to back, but we refocused very quickly,” McDowell said.

In the Carnegie Mellon game, Emory started off with a three-point lead due to the opponent’s ball handling errors. And even with some serving and attack errors of their own, the Eagles won the first set 25-18. Carnegie Mellon and Emory then went back and forth, each winning two matches, only for Emory to come out on top in the final set, 15-12. Carr had 71 total attacks, Thompson had 34 digs and junior right side and setter Carly Saitman had a .556 kill percentage.

“We played with grit,” Barzdukas said. “We set the standard for how we wanted to play, and [those] two matches went our way because we controlled the pace of the match.”

The team has focused lately on finishing well, specifically, maintaining ball control in the last five points of each set. McDowell also pointed to the team’s slow start in the WashU match.

“We ended up playing catch-up the entire time,” McDowell said. “We have to do a better job focusing at the beginning of each set.”

Emory started off the first set with eight attack errors. The Eagles rebounded to take the second set, but WashU returned in the third and fourth sets to take the game.

“At the end of the day, WashU is a very good team, and we have a very heated rivalry with them,” Barzdukas said. “But everything that didn’t go our way is fixable.”

The Eagles are hoping to make those fixable adjustments in the coming practices prior to the NCAA tournament beginning Nov. 9. The team aims to work on serving, serve receives and energy management, according to Barzdukas.

In the tough moments of the deciding game, McDowell said she was able to keep her composure because of her superb staff and players.

“I have a great staff with a great sense of humor that keeps me composed,” she said. “Of course we were frustrated on Saturday, but we have players [who] are never purposely playing bad and care desperately about this all. It’s easy to keep my composure when I keep that in perspective.”

Until the NCAA Division III tournament, the Eagles will prepare to extend their season for as long as possible.

“We’re excited for what’s to come,” Barzdukas said. “At the end of the day, we’re still going to NCAA, which has been a major goal for us.”

Emory will host the NCAA D-III Atlanta Region games this week, facing off against Worcester State University (Mass.) Nov. 9 at 8 p.m. If the Eagles win, they will move on to play either Christopher Newport University (Va.) or Thomas More College (Ky.) Nov. 10 at 7 p.m. Emory will also host the championship match on Nov. 11 at 7 p.m.

Freshman right side hitter Leah Saunders aims for a kill at the Emory Invitational Oct 27 to 28. The Eagles swept all four matches at home. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

With a six-game win streak spurring their record to 25-5 on the season, another regular season is officially in the books for the Emory volleyball team.

The Eagles concluded the month with four wins at the Emory Invitational. The Eagles dispatched Washington and Lee University (Va.) 3-0 and Randolph-Macon College (Va.) 3-2 Oct. 27 before retiring Berry College (Ga.) 3-0 and Webster University (Mo.) 3-0 Oct. 28. The wins contributed to the Eagles’ home record for the season, which stands at 13-0.

Despite a seemingly swift victory over Washington and Lee, the Eagles fought hard for 25 wins. Net work from junior outside hitter Karissa Dzurik and freshman right side Leah Saunders helped the Eagles push past the Generals. Saunders and Dzurik each had 20 attacks in the match.

While the scoreboard came dangerously close to a tie during some of the weekend’s matches, Head Coach Jenny McDowell said that she wouldn’t change a thing regarding her team’s performance.

The Eagle defense gets set at the Emory Invitational. Parth Mody/Photo Editor

“Randolph-Macon — they’re really good,” McDowell said. “But I thought we just kept on getting better.”

The Eagles lost 24-20 against Randolph-Macon, losing the final point of the set on a service error. Emory won the second set 25-18 and the third 25-21, but Randolph-Macon came back in the fourth to win 25-17. The Eagles crushed their opponent 15-6 in the final set. Sophomore defensive specialist Elyse Thompson had 33 digs and junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas had 13.

McDowell said it was also important for the team to beat Berry 3-0 after they had suffered a tough loss to the Vikings earlier this month.

The Eagles took advantage of the third game to exact their revenge. Emory swiftly took the first two sets from Berry, winning 25-21 and 26-19, respectively. Sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr had 48 total attacks and 14 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Morgan McKnight posted a .429 kill percentage.

Dzurik stepped back onto the court this past weekend after staying on the sidelines for the majority of the season due to a calf injury.

“We got [Dzurik] back and that was huge for us,” McDowell said. “She had been working so hard in rehab, and she is finally back to being herself.”

Dzurik typically plays as an outside hitter for the Eagles but played right side this past weekend as part of the Eagles’ rearrangement due to various team members’ injuries. Carr said that she is excited about Dzurik’s return, particularly given Dzurik’s versatility and talent.

“It’s awesome to have [Dzurik] back,” Carr said. “She’s a good hitter, and her playing right side is really helping us.”

For the Eagles’ final game of the weekend, Emory managed to hold Webster to below 20 points in each set. Dzurik maintained a .571 kill percentage, and the team as a whole hit .396. Thompson’s 16 digs increased her season total to 521.

The Webster win concluded the regular season for the Eagles. Reflecting on the successful finish and all her team’s accomplishments, Carr said she looks forward to the postseason to finish what the team has started.

“I just can’t believe we’re already here,” Carr said. “This is what we’ve been talking about all season, ever since the summer, and now it’s crazy that we’re actually at this point.”

Last weekend’s results determined the Emory National Invitational Tournament team, which includes three Emory players: Carr, Thompson and McKnight. Carr was named MVP of the Invitational team.

The Eagles will host the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championships at home Nov. 3 and 4. Emory will play Case Western Reserve University (Ohio) at 2 p.m. and Carnegie Mellon University (Pa.) at 4 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3. Emory will host the championship game Nov. 4, at 1 p.m.

Karissa Dzurik is a staff writer for the Wheel.

Despite lineup changes as a result of various injuries, Emory’s volleyball team returned home with two victories Oct. 22 with a 21-5 record.

The Eagles began Sunday with a swift victory over Hendrix College (Ark.) 3-0 before fighting their way to a 3-2 win over Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.).

“This was a different type of week for us because it was so unusual for us to just play on Sunday, but it’s one of those things that’s different but also good,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said.
Playing solely at the tail end of the weekend made for a quick turnaround between games but allowed the team more time to make adjustments.

Emory continues to grapple with the loss of numerous key players, including junior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach with an ACL injury that took her out for the rest of the season, freshman middle hitter Maggie Rimmel with a leg injury, sophomore right side Katie Kane with a back injury and freshman middle hitter Haley Stevenson with a shoulder injury.

Nevertheless, the team readjusted and conquered the competition without the help of some key players.

Junior right side and setter Carly Saitman stepped up and maintained a .556 kill percentage in the Hendrix match, and freshman right side Leah Saunders posted 22 total attacks.

McDowell subbed in junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas on multiple occasions to make consistent serves for the Eagles.

“Barzdukas is an incredibly hard worker … and was really a difference maker this weekend,” McDowell said.

The team struggled with the quick turnaround during the Birmingham-Southern game, McDowell explained. Emory began this second match neck and neck with Birmingham-Southern, winning the first set 27-25.

The two teams went back and forth. Emory won the first, third and fifth match, and Birmingham-Southern won the second and fourth matches. During the game, sophomore defensive specialist Elyse Thompson made an Emory volleyball record of 38 digs within the 5 sets. This was Thompson’s fourth time making more than 30 digs in a game this season.

Thompson also led a seven-serve streak in the third set, allowing Emory to gain the upper hand.

In the final set, the Eagles, down 12-14, fought against immense pressure and defended against two consecutive match points from Birmingham-Southern. Through the combination of blocks from Saitman and Saunders, serves from Thompson and kills from sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr, the Eagles won four consecutive points, winning the final match 16-14.

The team has been steadily working in practice at improving the mental game, key aspects to Sunday’s wins, according to Carr.

“We ended up staying mentally tough,” Carr said. “Our theme has been to focus on finishing.”

In practices, McDowell stressed two strategies for mental toughness. First, she told players to focus on what occurs on Emory’s side of the net. While they can’t control how the opposing team receives or hits a ball, they can focus on every player and every moment of contact on their end. Second, McDowell used the phrase “love the 20s” to put emphasis on finishing the last five points of every game with the best level of play possible.

“This coming weekend is really big for us, as these are our last matches before [the University Athletic Association (UAA) Championship],” Carr said. “It’s [also] our senior weekend, so we’re excited to celebrate [senior captain and setter Hannah Billings].”

Carr hopes that with the excitement of senior weekend, a loud crowd and a home court advantage, the team will be able to pick up four more victories before heading to the UAA Championship in November.

The Eagles play at home Oct. 27 for the Emory Invitational against Washington and Lee University (Va.) at 4:30 p.m. and Randolph-Macon College (Va.) at 7 p.m. They will then play Berry College (Ga.) at 12:30 p.m. and Webster University (Mo.) at 3 p.m. Oct. 28.

Entering the important University Athletic Association (UAA) Round Robin at No. 2 with a 17-3 record, the Emory women’s volleyball team won two games and lost two games last weekend.

The Eagles began the weekend with a tough 3-2 loss to Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) (Mo.) Oct. 14 but returned later that day with a 3-0 win against Case Western Reserve University (Ohio). The next day the team defeated New York University 3-0 but fell 3-2 to Carnegie Mellon University (Penn.).

“We were close to being 4-0 but lost two heartbreaking fifth set matches,” Head Coach Jenny McDowell said. “[But] to be honest, I’m more encouraged than discouraged.”

Although the Eagles lost two games, both had been within reach for the Eagles, who faced significant adversity due to the loss of junior middle hitter Sydney Leimbach, who tore her ACL in practice leading up to the tournament. Leimbach will be out for the rest of the season, according to McDowell.

While Leimbach’s absence was tough on the team, other factors contributed to the Eagles’ two losses, according to junior defensive specialist Mila Barzdukas.

“Both matches were very manageable, with multiple opportunities to win, but we just did not close effectively,” Barzdukas said.

Leimbach’s injury forced McDowell and her coaching staff to make tough adjustments. Junior right side and setter Carly Saitman filled in for Leimbach in the middle, a position in which she has little experience, McDowell said.

Sophomore Sarah Porter, typically a key setter, also moved into a hitting position as part of the effort to play without Leimbach. In the Case Western game, Porter earned 17 total attacks.

While it was critical that teammates adjusted positions to fill in for Leimbach’s absence, they also needed to step up to help mitigate the loss of her productivity. One of these players was sophomore outside hitter Sara Carr, according to Barzdukas.

“Carr put the team on her back,” Barzdukas said. “Teammates [like Carr] who are willing to play so hard and well when others are injured is super crucial.”

McDowell was quick to praise Carr, one of the positive aspects of a weekend with mixed results.

“Carr was unbelievable,” McDowell said. “She had a weekend that we’ll never forget.”

While Carr’s clear leadership and talent are apparent from the mature level of play she brings to the court, her statistics from also demonstrate that she is an asset to this team.

In the WashU game, Carr recorded 44 total attacks and 20 kills. Over the weekend’s four games, she averaged a 0.359 kill percentage.

Another key player in the Eagles’ wins was Barzdukas, who brought an important energy and a “real jump start” to the Carnegie Mellon game, according to McDowell.

Before returning home for the Emory Invitational, the Eagles will travel to Birmingham, Ala., to face Hendrix College (Ark.) at 2:30 p.m. and Birmingham-Southern College (Ala.) at 5 p.m Oct. 22.

“These games in Birmingham are super important for our regional success.” Barzdukas said. “We’re going into a tough gym, with a team we always battle a little bit with, and that’s going to be our focus for the week.”