After a perfect start to the season that saw the team win with relative ease, the Women of Troy failed to maintain the momentum in their home opener, falling 3-1 (20-25, 25-23, 21-25, 19-25) in an exhibition match to the Jiangsu Women’s Volleyball Team.
“We have some serious things that we need to work on, but it was good for all the young kids to play at home for the first time,” head coach Mick Haley said. “We had a chance to get it to a five game match, but unfortunately we weren’t able to do it.”
The team returned to the friendly confines of the Galen Center after jumping out of the gate to a 3-0 start in the Texas A&M Invitational over the weekend. However, the match was not an ordinary one for the Women of Troy. The exhibition game featured a matchup against a Jiangsu squad that has produced many world-renowned players in China but is still relatively unknown in NCAA circles.
“I thought we did pretty well considering we didn’t have a scouting report,” Haley said, laughing.
The first set saw the Women of Troy struggle early on, as Jiangsu jumped out to a 13-7 lead, powered by outside hitter Chen Yayun’s five kills. The team’s comeback efforts were met with strong resistance from Jiangsu, which extended its lead to 18-11 as Chen recorded two kills and setter Li Hui had an impressive nine assists. Back-to-back kills by freshman outside hitter Samantha Bricio brought the Women of Troy within striking range, but Jiangsu responded with outside hitter Zhai Tingli’s kill bringing up set point. Senior middle blocker Natasa Slijkovic set up junior outside hitter Sara Shaw for a kill, but Jiangsu retaliated with a termination by Zhai to take the first set.
“I think the quickness of their offense really surprised us,” senior opposite Katie Fuller said. “Our blockers had to focus on certain things that we haven’t been exposed to yet, but it was a good experience.”
The second set opened with better results for the Women of Troy. After falling behind early 5-4, the team rallied for a 7-5 lead as junior middle blocker Alexis Olgard followed consecutive Jiangsu service errors with a kill set up by sophomore setter Hayley Crone. The set remained tight, as a service ace by outside hitter Wang Wei tied it at 17. The Women of Troy took care of business after that point, as Crone twice set up Fuller for kills to terminate the rally and tie the match at one set apiece. The set win came in spite of a .187 attack percentage for the Women of Troy, as Jiangsu registered a .261 attack percentage after two sets.
The Women of Troy came out strong after the break, posting an 11-5 lead in the third set on the strength of kills by Olgard and Bricio. A Shaw service error and subsequent ace by middle blocker Jiang Qianwen bookended a four point rally that saw Jiangsu close to within two, and another kill by Jiang tied the set at 16 all. The Women of Troy faltered down the stretch, as a Fuller kill was sandwiched between a Jiangsu service ace and a kill to give the visitors the second set.
The fourth set started slowly for the Women of Troy, who fell behind 10-5 before three straight kills brought them to within one at 11-10 and prompted a Jiangsu timeout. However, the visitors tallied four straight points, including back-to-back kills from Chen, to increase the lead to 15-10. Olgard took advantage of an empty left side for a kill that brought the Women of Troy to within 16-13. However, Jiangsu slowly pulled away, as attack errors proved costly for the Women of Troy. A kill by opposite Lu Qian set up match point, after which Lu struck again to end the match.
Despite the loss, Haley was satisfied with his team’s performance, regardless of the result.
“I’m pleased with the effort,” Haley said. “In two or three weeks I think we’ll look like a different team. They [Jiangsu] are a fun team to watch, they play and hit hard, and I think they’re a good team to make adjustments to.”