Assistant Sports Editor
The VCU volleyball team (15-15) has finished the regular season on a tear and is on its way to Delaware having slipped into the CAA Tournament with the sixth and final seed.
James Finley’s Rams won six of their last seven matches, including the last four after finally peaking in the heart of the conference slate. Finley said the turnaround began after they beat George Mason on Oct. 22 in a five-set duel at home. They lost the first two sets but went on to win the next three and ultimately the match, sparking the run that has now extended their season.
“That was really a big confidence booster,” said Finley. “To come from a hole like that against a team that’s really become our rival, I think that’s where a lot of things changed for our team.”
It was after that game that VCU caught fire, all the way to their third-straight tournament appearance. They play Towson on Friday in Newark, Delaware in the first round of the CAA Tournament.
“We have the top blocking team in the conference so that gives us an advantage of being able to stop their offense,” said Finley on his team’s first-round opponent. “But they’re a very good defensive team.”
VCU has seen growth in every area of the stat sheet, as the personal stats and team numbers have both gone up among the ranks of the CAA’s elite. VCU’s team-wide .236 hitting percentage and 2.77 blocks per game are first in the conference.
As far as individual numbers, Courtney Hott is third in both total blocks and hitting percentage. Kristin Boyd’s 3.49 kills per game is also good for third in the CAA.
Meanwhile, VCU’s first round opponent Towson ranks first in three team categories, including hitting opponent percentage, assists and total kills. Finley said that his squad and the Tigers are the two teams playing the best volleyball in the CAA right now.
“It’s not that we’re playing somebody we have beaten,” said Finley. “But I think we’re the two teams that are on the biggest run. We’re the two hottest teams so it will be really interesting that we get to play each other first.”
In order to beat Towson, the Rams will rely a lot on on-court leadership from their core of upperclassmen. Redshirt juniors Boyd and Jasmine Waters are VCU’s most dominant forces along the net, while Hott and Jessica Ojuku are, as seniors, statistically two of the best all-around players on the roster.
The winner of the VCU-Towson matchup in the first round of the conference tournament will play Northeastern, the CAA’s No. 2 seed in the semifinal the following day. Finley likes his team’s chances in the tournament, but the road to the championship and the accompanying NCAA Tournament bid is steep. Finley said the team goal is to make it to the Sweet Sixteen, but that they will have to win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA’s because the CAA is likely to receive just one bid.
But given the Rams’ recent play and the fact that they have peaked in such a timely manner, he and his players like their chances.