Volleyball is now one win away from clinching a second consecutive regular season Atlantic 10 Conference Championship after a pair of victories over the weekend against Saint Louis on Oct. 28 and Dayton on Oct. 26. The Rams (16-7, 11-0 Atlantic-10 Conference) overcame a slow start to defeat SLU 3-1 and prevailed 3-2 in a five-set thriller against Dayton to complete season sweeps against both teams.
Junior outside hitter Vicky Giommarini paced the Rams offense for the weekend, recording 39 total kills — 21 against SLU and 18 against Dayton. Senior middle blocker Tori Baldwin moved to within two blocks of 500 in her career.
The victories extended VCU’s school-record conference winning streak to 27 matches while bringing its overall winning streak to 12 matches. VCU also improved its postseason resume in its pursuit of a second-straight berth in the NCAA Tournament, as Dayton was 30th in the RPI rankings.
After an emotional five-set victory Friday, the Rams overcame a slow start against the Billikens (5-18, 4-7) by dropping the first set before rallying to win the next three to win the match 3-1 Sunday afternoon at the Siegel Center.
VCU committed an attack, receiving and serving error, respectively, in the first four points played to quickly fall behind 4-1 in the first set. The Rams eventually rallied to hold set point before a series of poor passes allowed Saint Louis to win the set on a 3-0 run.
“[Friday] was a grueling match mentally. I think we had to get dialed in a little bit more,” said head coach Jody Rogers. “Teams are going to come in and play us hard and we can’t have a B-game. If we don’t have an A-game we are going to lose. I reiterated to them that losing to this kind of team can ruin the chances of making the NCAA tournament — I challenged them and they responded. I love the resiliency we showed.”
Rogers’ challenge bred instant results as VCU started the second set on a 4-0 run enroute to a 25-19 win. VCU continued to bear down as it held SLU to attack percentages of .135 and .000 in the final two sets while hitting .333 and .444 in the same sets.
“We knew we either had to pick it up or we were gonna lose our streak, especially to a team that isn’t the best in our conference,” Baldwin said. “Coach got into us a little bit more in the locker room. That spark lit a fire in our eyes and we picked it up and won.”
For the match, the Rams outhit the Billikens .305 to .158, out-blocked them 13-9 and out-dug them 72-61. Freshman libero Alyna Draper paced the Ram defense with 22 digs and added eight assists. Giommarini led the match with 21 kills — all in the final three sets.
Vicky Giommarini gathered her team after a kill and told them all to relax.
VCU had just lost the second set after allowing arch-rival Dayton (17-7, 8-2) to go on an 11-2 run. A questionable call of a touch on VCU in the third set gave Dayton a point and ended a run of momentum the Rams had built.
The junior captain reminded her team to breathe, relax and execute.
Her team responded to go on a 6-2 run to tie the set at 10-10. Another questionable call from officials on a tipped ball — this time in VCU’s favor — sparked a 5-2 Flyers run that they never relinquished as they won the set to take a 2-1 match lead. VCU’s school-record 25 straight conference win streak appeared to be in doubt.
Except senior captain Baldwin was having none of it. During the huddle between sets, she spoke to the team, imploring them to have heart.
“‘Guys, we have to be better and we have to have more heart,’” Baldwin told her team. “‘When it comes down to it, whoever wants it more is going to win.’”
The Rams responded with their best two sets of the match, winning the fourth set 25-19 before cruising 15-6 in the fifth and final set to win the match 3-2. They held the Flyers to a combined .067 hitting percentage in the final two sets combined.
“This was huge,” Rogers said of the victory. “This was an exciting match and there was a lot of emotion. Once we got relaxed and executed, we were fine. The girls just had to have the mindset that they could do it and that they are there for each other. That’s what our culture is and what they did for each other tonight.”
The victory also gave the Rams a sweep in the season series with the Flyers. VCU now holds the tiebreaker over its rival in the final conference standings in regular season play.
“I think this match was a defining moment for us in earning first in the conference,” Baldwin said. “We still have teams left to play, and we can’t underestimate any of them, but I think this earned our first spot in conference.”
Giommarini led the Rams with 18 kills and added 19 digs, which also led the team.
“Vicky was absolutely huge for us tonight,” said junior middle blocker Jasmin Sneed. “She played so well and kept us emotionally level.”
Volleyball returns to action this weekend with road matches against George Washington Nov. 2 and George Mason Nov. 3. A win against either team will clinch the A-10 regular season championship for the Rams. The next home match for VCU will be Nov. 7, an out-of-conference matchup with High Point.