Volleyball’s tough road doesn’t get any easier

Vic McDowell, The Circuit

Effort has not reflected in the win column this season. Benedictine volleyball is battling to save its season, on the road for a matchup against a ranked opponent.

The volleyball team took on Doane College on Sept. 11. Photo by Rosie McShane
Senior Erin Daly digs a ball out against No. 25 Doane on Sept. 11. Volleyball continues its conference campaign against No. 9 Evangel. Photo by Rosie McShane

The Ravens (4-5; Heart 0-2) have lost two straight matches. Each defeat came in straight sets.

This week brings new challenges. NAIA No. 14-ranked Evangel University (14-0; Heart 1-0) is poised atop the conference standings. Benedictine’s effort has been present, but wins are not the result thus far.

This week’s practices were meant to build confidence.

Head coach Erin Cooper notes things have not been easy, but says her players need to accept the challenge.

“This has been a struggle, but practice has been more intense as far as expectations,” Cooper said. “If you’re not going to come back with your head high, wanting the ball to come back to you, then step off because there is someone that wants the chance.”

Benedictine’s offense is the focus this week as the Crusaders rank nationally in blocks (2) and digs (6), thanks in part to middle-hitter Morgan Kensinger, who is nationally ranked No. 8 in total blocks and blocks per game.

“Evangel doesn’t really have any big hitters, they are just a good team,” Cooper said. “There is no one big and flashy, you don’t have to key in on anybody, they just all play really well together.”

The Ravens practices are working on skills to benefit them during this matchup, including putting pressure on the defense with out-of-system balls. Out-of-system balls are attacks meant to move defenders out of position, and create easier opportunities for the offense.

“We have to be able to put that ball [in play] so they don’t slam them down,” Cooper said. “[We need] to capitalize on out-of-system balls.”

Benedictine’s offense has improved lately. Junior outside hitter Camila Araujo earned 10 kills and sophomore setter Taylor Garner tallied 25 assists last game.

Cooper said they’ll need aggressive offense from the front line.

The chemistry between the middle hitters and setters is important for the Lady Ravens to create out-of-system balls and easy opportunities.

“In order for the outside hitters [to be successful], we need a better relationship between our setter and middles,” Cooper said. “[Better] as far as what they are able to hit. When they become more of an offensive threat it makes our team better.”

The Ravens’ discipline is a key factor, Cooper believes, that will put Benedictine  back on track.

During the past two games, Benedictine has played well in spurts, but made key mistakes late in games. This team has not been able to remain composed consistently.

“It comes back to having a complete and disciplined game,” Cooper said. “Make sure we’re doing everything the same way every single time, so when things are out of sorts we continue to stay disciplined.”

Having discipline will serve well against the Crusaders’ effective defense. Benedictine travels to No. 9 Evangel University at 2:30 p.m. Sept. 19.