William and Mary began its season with a .500 record Fri. Aug. 30, winning the first match of a doubleheader against Quinnipiac (1-2), before dropping the second match to Morgan State (2-1).
“To face a similar situation as last year’s first match of the season and pull through this time in five sets is a testament to our growth and belief in the team,” head coach Tim Doyle said.
The morning’s win marks the first time since 2016 that the College (1-1) has come away from the season-opener victorious. A strong start for the Tribe led to a nail biter, as the College scooped the first set and then proceeded to trade sets with the Bobcats until the fifth and final set.
Sophomore outside hitter Lauren Merrill played a critical role early in the day, with a stat line that boasted four kills and five crucial digs in the first set alone. Despite coasting to a 25-15 first set win on the strength of Merrill and the rest of the offense, the College dropped the second set after many frantically-paced points.
The second frame saw 10 ties and five lead changes, during which both the Tribe and the Bobcats earned several hard-fought points. In the end, the Bobcats prevailed, scraping a 25-23 win, the smallest possible margin. After such an exhausting game, the College was forced to dig deep, managing a 25-21 victory in the third frame.
Merrill and junior opposite hitter Kate Dedrick put down six and four kills respectively, giving the Tribe’s offense a much-needed energy boost in the third set. Dedrick’s stat line alone boasted double digit kills, as did that of Merrill, sophomore middle blocker Madeleine Bertz, and junior middle blocker Julia Brown.
“Kate Dedrick was solid throughout, killing almost half of her attempts,” Doyle said. “We made a lot of scrappy hustle plays, and I love seeing that energy on the court.”
However, the College proved unable to put away consecutive sets, dropping the fourth frame to the Bobcats by a slightly larger 25-17 margin. The Bobcats’ victory pushed the match to a fifth and decisive 15–point set. The Tribe jumped out early with the lead, winning the first four points of the fifth set, before cruising to a comfortable 15-10 victory.
The College’s stamina was on display throughout the grueling match but especially in the final frame, during which the Tribe hit .400 as a team, despite hitting just .242 for the match as a whole. Additionally, Brown and Bertz put down four kills apiece, supplying the team with eight of the 15 points the Tribe earned in the fifth set.
Senior setter Autumn Brenner garnered 54 assists, making the match against the Bobcats her fifth career match with more than 50 assists. Brenner has now earned 1,790 career assists, putting her in eighth place for all-time assists in the College’s history.
Doyle spoke to the importance of ball-handling and precision on the Tribe side of the net, emphasizing the contributions of Brenner and the defense. “I thought our ball control led to a lot of offensive opportunities today, and our attackers capitalized, especially JB and Bertz in the middle.”
Previously 2-0 in meetings with the Bears, the College faced them again for the first time since 2000 in the second game of the day. Despite putting up a tenacious fight, the Tribe came up short, losing the match by a single set margin, 3-2.
The Bears took the first frame, but the Tribe battled back to pick up the second set. However, trading sets back and forth yet again depleted the College’s bench as well as its starting lineup, and the Bears took set three, and although a late push from the Tribe won game four and sent the match to a fifth set, in which the Bears ultimately prevailed.
Next, the College will head to Cincinnati for a three-game road swing, taking on Akron and Wright State Sept. 6, as well as host-team Xavier Sept. 7.