A perfect start: Volleyball sweeps George Mason, George Washington

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A perfect start: Volleyball sweeps George Mason, George Washington

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Saint Louis University Women’s Volleyball pulled out two 3-0 sweeps against conference opponents George Mason University and George Washington University on Sept. 23 and Sept. 25, respectively. The wins brought SLU to a perfect 2-0 Atlantic 10 record. SLU’s play was dominated by senior outside hitter Danielle Rygelski, who is turning in a dominant stretch of performances as SLU’s strongest option in the attack.

The first match came at Chaifetz Pavilion against George Mason, an opponent SLU may have expected to defeat handily. However, George Mason came out prepared and kept the match close. SLU’s largest set victory came in the first set, which they won 25-19 after jumping out to an early lead that they never relinquished. The first set victory came due to an efficient team attacking performance, as evidenced by a .344 hitting percentage. Rygelski posted a .500 attack percentage, with 6 kills and only 1 error.

Rygelski then found her groove in the second set, posting a .389 percentage with 10 kills and only 3 errors on 18 attempts. George Mason kept it close the entire way, even going ahead 23-22 towards the end of the set, before SLU closed the gap and the set, 25-23. Rygelski’s dominant performance against George Mason then kicked into full gear in a rollercoaster of a third set, which SLU ultimately won by a thrilling scoreline of 31- 29. She managed 15 kills and 3 errors on 26 attacks for a .462 attack percentage in the set and a .444 attack percentage overall. Rygelski also led SLU with a team-high 10 digs and tied freshman middle blocker Lauren Mershon for the team lead in blocks with 6. Senior setter Ashley Gagen and sophomore setter Camila Rivas continued to rotate at the setter position against George Mason, with Rivas leading SLU with 20 assists in the match.

The second match of the weekend came against George Washington, visiting Chaifetz Pavilion from Washington, D.C. Rygelski was once again the standout performer, tacking on 24 kills with a .327 attacking percentage. Meanwhile, the setting duo of Gagen and Rivas notched 17 and 18 assists, respectively, as they continued to rotate in and out at the position. Junior libero Mackenzie Long led the team with 14 digs.

The first set proved to be a close one once again as SLU squeaked out a 25- 23 victory. The second set was another back-and-forth affair, as the Billikens and Colonials battled until SLU finally came out on top, 29- 27. The third set was the set in which the Billikens finally broke open the Colonials, with SLU managing a healthy 25-17 victory over George Washington.

Gagen commented on SLU’s 2-0 start to the A-10 season. “We are very excited to start the conference 2-0. The non-conference portion of the season was pretty tough from a win/loss perspective, but it prepared us for the first weekend of conference. We are starting to put together some great individual performances that allow us to play more cohesively as a team,” she said.

Another interesting factor at play against both George Mason and George Washington was SLU’s proclivity for pulling out close two-point wins in sets. Gagen believed that the secret for winning those sets, which propelled SLU to 3-0 sweeps, was to simply play in the moment. “You can’t get too caught up with what the scoreboard says. You just have to play your hardest and stay focused throughout every rally. Win or lose, you will carry that momentum into the next game,” she said.

Rygelski’s outstanding performances earned her A-10 Player of the Week honors, while libero Mackenzie Long won the A-10 Defensive Player of the Week award. Rygelski has the highest (31 vs. George Mason), third-highest (26 vs. Illinois State) and sixth-highest (24 vs. George Washington) three-set kill totals in the NCAA this season. Meanwhile, Long was SLU’s best defender this past week, with 55 digs over the three matches — including 32 against Western Illinois, a season-high for the A-10.

Next up for the SLU Billikens will be the Dayton Flyers at Chaifetz Pavilion on Oct. 1 at 1 p.m. The Flyers defeated the Billikens in last year’s A-10 Championship match, and the Billikens will be hungry for revenge as Oct. 1 approaches.