The University Athletic Association is one of the great Division III forces across all sports and across the country. Members of this dominant division, of which UR is both a part of and a major power in nearly every competition, routinely invade the Top 25 Coaches Polls year after year. The women’s volleyball is no exception to this trend. Emory University is ranked No. 1 in the country, with Washington University in St. Louis (No. 4), New York University (No. 15) and University of Chicago (No. 23) not far behind in the most recent poll.
What’s more, all of these ranked teams ended up receiving invitations to this year’s NCAA postseason tourney, which kicks off next week.
“Competing in the UAA is a privilege because we get to play against literally the best teams in the country,” senior defensive specialist Katie Drinkwater said. “That being said, never giving up is a huge accomplishment, especially when we found out that five of the UAA eight teams got bids to the NCAA tournament.”
With knowledge of the intimidating foes that awaited them in Cleveland, Ohio, home to Case Western Reserve University and site of this year’s UAA Championships, the UR squad stepped onto the court aware that their standard play — which had guided them to a near .500 mark on the season (including a 14-8 record against non-UAA affiliates) — would not be enough for victory. This was made all too evident to the team, as they fell to University of Chicago in a hard-fought first round, 3-0 (14-25, 8-25, 19-25).
The Yellowjackets, however, are a resilient bunch. For though they hadn’t topped their opponents’ prestigious ranking, the yellow and blue had a secret weapon in store — one that hadn’t surfaced in recent games but, when given the opportunity, was an enormous game-changer.
“Coach mixed up the lineup, and [sophomore right hitter] Alma Guevara played setter, which improved the overall hitting performance of the team,” outside hitter Kelly Mulrey said. “And even though we didn’t win the match, Alma did a great job.”
With Guevara in the hot seat, the women battled to take the first set from a formidable Brandeis University team in the seventh-place playoff game (25-17) before dropping the last three (12-25, 20-25,16-25).
Guevara racked up three kills, three digs, four blocks and 26 assists in that game, and Mulrey (17 kills, 13 digs) and Drinkwater (12 digs) also played crucial roles for the Yellowjackets. Junior outside hitter Casey Larsen added eight kills and seven digs.
The Guevara switch is just one of many last-minute moves head coach Ladi Iya utilized this season, a statement to the dexterity and depth of her team, as well as Iya’s own confidence in her seasoned squad’s ability to adapt and alter play style at the drop of a hat — the mark of any capable team, to be sure.
“I think this year we saw a lot of individuals step into roles both on and off the court that they weren’t used to having on the team,” Drinkwater said. “And they adjusted really well to some radical changes.”
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.