Column: Is AU volleyball secretly the San Antonio Spurs?
How the team continues to be unstoppable
If you were to personify sports teams as babysitters, there is a short list of teams with whom you’d trust to watch your baby. Let’s name this baby “W.”
Anything you throw at the babysitter, you feel like they could handle. Even if the sitter is off their game, even if they’re dealing with injuries, or even if, say, their residency was fire-adjacent, you still feel like you could trust them to consistently bring home the W. These babysitters are your New England Patriots, your San Antonio Spurs and your UConn Huskies. On Sept. 30, American University volleyball proved it belonged on that list.
Because if there’s a blueprint to beat AU, the Patriot League has yet to figure it out.
American headed into the Sept. 30 game against Navy off eight days of rest, with an additional delay due to deal the previous day’s fire and subsequent power outages.
As with all Patriot League matchups, the extenuating circumstances didn’t particularly matter for the Eagles. And that should absolutely terrify the rest of the Patriot League.
Opposing teams have capitalized this season off of AU’s slow starts, a particular area of concern for head coach Barry Goldberg. The fire only exaggerated the difficulty for the Eagles heading into the first set. But a clean start by AU (and inversely so for Navy) set the tone of the game early, which was a nice change of pace for Goldberg.
“I was concerned about our preparation,” Goldberg said. “On [Sept. 29], we didn’t practice, we didn’t play. We haven’t played in [eight] days, and they played on Friday night. It’s not easy to all of a sudden get right back into match mode, and I was really pleased with our team coming out in set one.”
Navy also had the opportunity to take advantage of an uncharacteristically pedestrian game from senior outside hitter Aleksandra Kazala. The reigning Patriot League MVP had 12 kills to go along with 11 errors, including six service errors. But, as was the theme for the Eagles, it didn’t particularly matter.
Until proven otherwise, sophomore outside hitter Helena Elbaek is now the greatest volleyball player on the planet. Elbaek had 20 kills and recorded just one error, and she registered a number of momentum shifting plays. Elbaek was particularly strong at the end of AU’s crucial third set, registering the final kill of the closely-contested match.
The game had all the makings of an upset. And yet, the Eagles gave off this stoic, Spurs-ian confidence, visibly resetting after every single point. The Eagles didn’t repeat their mistakes – Navy did. They simply played better fundamental volleyball. There was no Golden State Warriors apathetic vibe behind the win. It was very much the San Antonio Spurs, confidence justified behind two decades of success vibe.
Goldberg knows that Navy is a formidable opponent and acknowledged their strengths as a team.
“I’m sure they’ll be waiting for us in a few weeks to go back to them,” Goldberg said. “We’ll see how we fare against the other teams in the meantime – they’ve already played a couple of the good teams in our league, and they beat them.”
But it’s clear that the Eagles are again favorites to repeat as Patriot League champions. AU never looked rattled against their strongest in-conference opponent, and the team has home games slated against Holy Cross and Colgate this week. So if this was a high-obstacle game for Goldberg’s Eagles, the Patriot League should be shaking in anticipation.
Spencer Nusbaum is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences and a sports columnist for The Eagle.
This article originally appeared in The Eagle's October 2018 fall print edition.