Since beating Trinity on Friday, Sept. 25, women’s volleyball has been enduring a rough patch, and has a four-loss streak after Friday’s tilt against Bowdoin. To make matters worse, two of those losses came against NESCAC opponents, dropping the team to 1-4 in the division. The game against Bowdoin, as well as matches against Connecticut College and Tufts, gave Wesleyan a chance to even its record before taking on Williams and Amherst at home to end the regular season.
The team has struggled at times to adjust to new Head Coach Ben Somera’s style of play, which many members of the team have stressed will be a long process that may not be fully completed even this season. Hitter Naja Lewis ’17 agreed that this transition period is normal.
“It was definitely a huge adjustment in the beginning, and we’re still adjusting,” said Lewis. “I think we’re starting to go into it more smoothly than we were at the beginning, but then again it’s still our first season with [Somera] and it takes time. I don’t think we expected the team to just change overnight, or over one season, so I think we’ve done a good job adjusting and are still adjusting and getting better.”
Going into the match against Bowdoin, however, circumstances did not bode well for an opportunity to right the ship. Historically, Wesleyan volleyball is 19-7 against the Polar Bears, but recent history has not been so favorable. Bowdoin has won the last six match-ups, with the last Cardinal victory coming in the 2008 NESCAC tournament. Additionally, the Polar Bears were 11-3 heading into the match, and had not lost in NESCAC play, nor at all on their home turf.
The first set of the match showed that Wesleyan hitters would have to be creative if they wanted to get the better of Bowdoin’s stifling defense. After Kelsey Tam ’19 started the match out with a run of four straight points on serve for Wes, the Polar Bears played error-free volleyball to tie the match at six. From there on out, Bowdoin generally maintained control of the match, allowing only five more Cardinal kills for a grand total of seven. The set ended with a fairly easy Bowdoin 25-16 victory.
The second set also started well for the away team. Five straight points for Bowdoin nullified the Cards’ 8-4 lead. Wesleyan again struggled to accumulate kills and would not gain another advantage. Senior Hailey Wahl in particular was impressive for Bowdoin, and her serving run of five straight points propelled her team to a 25-15 victory in the second set.
Back against the wall, Somera kept trust in his starting lineup, keeping more or less the same lineup in rotation for the third set. It quickly became clear that this decision may have been unwise, as playing the same group yielded the same results. Wesleyan quickly fell behind, with the set becoming as one-sided as 13-3 before ending with a decisive 25-13 Bowdoin victory. This clinched a 3-0 sweep for the home team.
The loss had few bright spots, but the continued solid play of Emma Robin ’19 may be one. Robin, a hitter, had just three kills but made no errors on attack and added an impressive five blocks, the most for either team. Typical stars Sarah Swenson ’18, Madeleine Lundberg ’19, and Rachel Savage ’17 all failed to play up to their normal standards. Savage struggled to collect digs against Bowdoin hitter Christy Jewett ’16, who led the game with 12 kills while also adding nine digs and two service aces.
When asked if she knew that this game would be a challenge, Robin admitted that Bowdoin was strong but that it did not absolve the team of responsibility.
“It’s still on us,” said Robin. “We need to make sure we are staying mentally tough. We are ready to compete this next game.”
While Bowdoin celebrated clinching a perfect record at home, Wesleyan lamented yet another NESCAC loss. The Cards’ season record dropped to 4-8, while their NESCAC record fell to 1-5 with just four such contests remaining. Wesleyan would now need to go 7-1 over its remaining games to finish the regular season with a winning record. However, Robin says she is looking at the short-term and remains focused on the upcoming games.
“We are motivated and determined to perform well this weekend,” said Robin. “We have been working really hard in practice this week and are perfecting the basics.”
Lewis echoed these sentiments, convinced that the team would be able to right the ship as the end of the regular season draws near.
“I think we’re most excited about just ending the season off strong, and on a good note,” said Lewis. “We’ve been practicing really hard to do that, to bring some wins over to our school.”
Wesleyan plays at Tufts on Friday night, and will travel to Connecticut College on Saturday afternoon. The team severely needs a momentum swing that can send them into the following weekend’s Hall of Fame Tournament with confidence.