Eagles struggle to three-set victory in Patriot League opener
Rotation change in second set secured Eagles’ win over Loyola
The AU volleyball team earned a hard-fought 25-22, 25-14, 25-23 victory over Loyola, Maryland in its Patriot League opener Friday night in Bender Arena.
The Eagles overcame an error-prone start, holding Loyola (6-8, 0-1 PL) to an attacking percentage of 0.147 for the match and beginning their Patriot League title defense with a victory. Head coach Barry Goldberg said there is room for improvement for his team, and they need to make adjustments before they compete against stronger teams in the league.
“The only good thing I can say is that we found a way through when we didn’t play so well,” Goldberg said. “Sometimes, that’s a sign of a good team, but when you’re doing that in the first conference match of the season, you’re going to have a lot more difficult matches than that.”
AU (8-6, 1-0 PL) received a boost as sophomore middle blocker Vela McBride returned from a five-game absence due to a concussion. McBride started the game strong with a kill and a service ace in the game’s first two points, but the Eagles struggled in the first set. The team managed 11 kills and 11 errors in the first set for an attacking percentage of 0.000.
“It was clear there that we were just mishitting some balls from our best players down to our players that are fighting for starting positions,” Goldberg said. “We didn’t really execute well in that first game. It’s pretty amazing that we had 11 errors and we were still able to win the game.”
After the first set, Goldberg inserted junior middle blocker Cheyenne Orsi and freshman outside hitter Helena Elbaek into the rotation. The move paid dividends in the second set. Orsi and Elbaek both recorded 2 kills in the second set. The Eagles reduced their offensive errors, recording 3 errors to their 15 kills.
“Certainly the second game with the changes Helena and Cheyenne certainly helped,” Goldberg said. “Kennedy [Etheridge] definitely set a better set that second set, but we didn’t control much of the tempo.”
Etheridge, who had split time at setter with freshman Olivia Wassner in the final games of the non-conference season, played the entire match and recorded 30 assists, five kills and eight digs. Going forward, Goldberg said he will likely play only one setter instead of switching between Etheridge and Wassner.
“Running this 5-1 system with one person leading is a little bit more controlled than with two people in and out,” Goldberg said. “Today we didn’t do a lot substitutions, we just let people [get] in there and play and saw if they could gain control.”
Junior outside hitter Aleksandra Kazala, who entered the game ranked 10th in the nation in kills per set with 4.81, led the Eagles with 12 kills and 15 digs. Sophomore outside hitter Shannon Webb contributed seven kills and 11 digs.
McBride added seven kills in three sets of action.
“We’re happy that she’s back in the lineup and that we gave her some time today,” Goldberg said. “It’s going to take her a little bit of time here to really get her game on, but overall she did well for the first day back but knows it’s going to need to be better, not just from her, just from the whole team.”
The Eagles play their next three matches away from Bender Arena, on the road against Navy on Tuesday before facing Holy Cross and Army on back-to-back days Sept. 29 and 30. Goldberg said the Eagles face a tougher quality of opponents in their next three matches and will need to improve their play over their three-game road trip.