Both Loyola and Dayton have byes in the first round due to seeding.
Preview: Women’s Volleyball Enters A-10 Tournament in Second Place
Following a series of tough matches against ranked opponents and Atlantic-10 Conference competition, the Loyola women’s volleyball team will be competing in their second A-10 Championship Nov. 17 hosted by Davidson College in their Belk Arena.
The Championship can be streamed on ESPN+ with the first matchup starting at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov 17 and the final match starting at noon Sunday, Nov. 19.
The first round will begin with Davidson against Saint Louis University and Virginia Commonwealth University against Fordham University. Both Loyola and the University of Dayton have byes in the first round due to second and first-place seeding.
The winners of the first match between No. 4 Davidson College and No. 5 Saint Louis University will compete against the number one seed, the University of Dayton, in the semifinals. The winners from the second match between No. 3 Virginia Commonwealth University and No. 6 Fordham University will compete against Loyola, who just achieved their 16th consecutive win.
Loyola head coach Amanda Berkley said it has been a pretty cool experience making a strong comeback after a very challenging schedule early on, especially when the team had a lot of injuries at that time. Berkley also highlighted how the team is healthier and has played at a high level in the last 16 matches after their 10-game losing streak.
No. 4 Davidson vs. No. 5 Saint Louis
The competition’s first matchup between Davidson and Saint Louis will mark the 21st meeting between the two teams since 2014.
This season, the Wildcats beat the Billikens twice, winning the first match 3-2 and the second 3-0. Historically, the Billikens have beaten the championship hosts 14-6.
Davidson has the opportunity to defend home court, but they will have to compete against Saint Louis’ determined offense which has had an average of 53.5 kills in their last two matchups against Davidson.
Leading the Billikens in their attacks with 371 kills is fourth-year right-side Delaney Rice. Second-year Kayla Richardson, fourth-year Emily Henken and fourth-year Jillian Mattingly have also surpassed the 200-kill mark for the Billikens this season.
Saint Louis not only has offensive depth, but they also have outnumbered Davidson in blocks this season. The Wildcats have 199 blocks led by their middle blockers second-year Kayla Davis’ 94 blocks and fourth-year Sola Omonije’s 88 blocks. While Davidson players have had impressive statistics, Saint Louis has recorded 240 blocks with nearly 78% of their blocks coming from middle blockers first-year Trinity Luckett and Mattingly.
In addition to middle blockers Davis and Omonije, second-year outside hitter Jackie Bardin and second-year opposite hitter Emma Slusser have supported Davidson’s offense by contributing a total of 424 kills. Third-year setter Xuan Nguyen has assisted her teammates through her 610 assists holding over 47% of the team’s total assists. On the defensive side, fourth-year libero Bella Brady assisted the team with her 557 digs.
No. 3 VCU vs. No. 6 Fordham
The battle to reach the semifinals will continue between VCU and Fordham. At the teams’ last meetings, VCU was victorious in the first match while Fordham took home the second match.
Their first matchup of the season was hotly competitive, Fordham took the first set but VCU struck back in the second, outlasting the Rams in a marathon set 31-29. In the first set, Fordham outscored VCU through their 17 kills. However, in the following three sets, VCU achieved higher stats in kills with 20, 15 and 14 in each set.
The second matchup between the Rams’ left Fordham victorious, beating VCU in overall kills, assists and digs which contributed to the team winning the match 3-1.
Leading VCU with 271 kills is fourth-year middle blocker Jasmine Knight. Third-year outside hitter Kialah Jefferson and opposite hitter Parker Hartzell both surpassed the 250-kill mark for the season. On the defensive side, first-year libero Anja Kujundzic had over 30% of the team’s digs this season as she achieved an impressive 508 digs overall. Knight assisted the team’s defense with an average of 1.24 blocks per set.
On the other side of the net, Fordham’s outside hitters second-year Audrey Brown and fourth-year Whitley Moody obtained 336 and 359 kills, respectively, throughout the regular season. First-year setter Whitney Woodrow led the team in assists with 843 out of the team’s total 1,200 assists.
The team’s digs were distinguished by Moody and graduate libero Mallory Lipski’s combined total of 799. First-year middle blocker Tatum Holderied contributed with 1.09 blocks per set.
The Flyers, who had four consecutive A-10 titles until they were dethroned by the Ramblers last year, secured the number one seed in this year’s A-10 championship. Despite two losses against No. 4 ranked University of Louisville and Marquette University, the Flyers have maintained a 24-game win streak and a perfect A-10 record.
The Flyers have also swept 23 of their 31 total matches throughout the season, including all of their A-10 matchups besides their first game against Loyola which ended in the Flyers’ favor 3-1 and their second game against Saint Louis University where the Flyers also left victorious 3-1.
Throughout the 2023-24 season, Dayton has recorded 1,454 kills over their opponents, with the highest average in the A-10 with 13.72 kills per set. Fourth-year outside hitter and libero Lexie Almodovar has led the team in kills with 458.
The team not only has offensive strength, but they also have defensive power as they passed the 1,500 mark in digs this season.
Berkley said that the team is excited to play any of the conference teams this weekend, but she did point out that Dayton is one of the best teams in the conference. At the same time, Berkley recognized taking one game at a time.
“I think we’re excited to play any of the teams, but I think Dayton is one of the best teams in the conference so hopefully we can make it that far,” Berkley said. “We’re focused on the first match where it’s either going to be VCU or Fordham, and so we have been preparing for them.”
The reigning A-10 champions started off the season competing against a series of ranked opponents varying from No. 6 University of Pittsburgh, No. 8 University of Tennessee, No. 11 University of Creighton and No. 18 Purdue University.
Despite the Ramblers’ determined efforts throughout their early season matchups, they started the season 2-11. After losing two matchups against Dayton, the Ramblers were able to make a quick comeback from their 10-game losing streak by winning the next 16 games. Along the way, the Ramblers obtained 14 sweeps.
Loyola’s overall offensive efforts surpassed the combined totals from their opponents as the Ramblers had 1,313 kills, 1,219 assists and 179 service aces. Cumulatively, their opponents had 1,178 kills, 1,097 assists and 113 service aces.
Leading the Ramblers in their offensive efforts has been fourth-year outside hitter Karlie McNabb with 300 kills. Fourth-year right side hitter Emily Banitt and graduate student Addie Barnes both ended the regular season with 241 kills. Third-year setter Bree Borum not only led the Ramblers with 915 assists this season, but she also reached the 2,000 career assists mark.
Berkley and Venuto both emphasized the team mentality going into the championships and the importance of playing one point at a time.
“I think it was different because we were leading, and this year we are the second seed, and we did lose to Dayton this year, so we have to focus on this tournament,” Venuto said. “This tournament is not just us playing Dayton, it’s about one game at a time, we have to beat either VCU or Fordham first and then we can move on to the next game and focus on that game.”
This article was written by Sabrina Godinho Dos Santos
Featured image by Holden Green | The Phoenix