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.”