The women’s volleyball team has not been playing well recently – the team has lost three straight games and has not won a conference game since its five-set thriller against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps Sept. 23.
The team’s season has, as head coach Mary Cahill put it after Chapman’s 3-2 loss to Occidental College Oct. 3, “been weird.”
“We’ve beat the top teams and lost to teams that are right in line with us,” Cahill said. “We know we are good. We need to play like it.”
Cahill is right – this team has great talent, coaching and the added motivation of barely missing out on making the playoffs last season. That’s why it’s surprising to hear team members say things like they “underestimated (their) abilities” Sept. 24 and “panicked” Sept. 30.
Teams often play out their season with streaks. Chapman had a string of wins – when it won seven straight games – to start the season before its recent run of losses. Confidence is fickle thing and can evaporate as quickly as it emerges, but to lose confidence so quickly after beating a tough team like Claremont-Mudd-Scripps is confusing.
While Chapman’s loss to the University of La Verne the following game Sept. 26 is disappointing, it’s not surprising. It was an away game against the No. 14 nationally ranked team in Division III. But losing to Pomona-Pitzer – a team that is 6-14, 3-5 in-conference – at home, without even forcing a fifth set, is concerning.
Chapman won the second set of that game 25-9. They are clearly the better team on paper. As Cahill said after that game, “I don’t know why (the confidence did not carry over from the second set). They’ve been playing volleyball since they were 12 years old, they shouldn’t be panicking at this time.”
There were signs of timidity early in Chapman’s last conference win, against the then-No. 7 nationally ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. They dropped the first two sets and looked like they would drop the third. But late in that third set, something clicked. It was instant.
Senior middle blocker Abby Smith put away a kill that tied the set and suddenly, Chapman became a relentless force. The team rattled off nine straight points to win the set and showed the sort of energy that made it seem like a loss was life or death. After fighting back from seven match points in the final set and winning, the crowd erupted into a frenzy not often heard in a Division III gym.
I’m not saying the team has lost that energy. I haven’t been to every game, so I haven’t seen every point that’s been played. But in the past two games, the team has lost in two matches that went all five sets.
After that game against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, the team echoed a mantra of never losing set fives due to their endurance. “Whenever we go to set five, we always win,” said junior outside hitter Lindsey Johnson.
That’s gone. Chapman can’t rely on being able to outlast other teams. So what’s its new identity?
This isn’t a warning to say that the Chapman volleyball players are amid an unsolvable crisis. They’re in a playoff spot, as they should be. But they need to stop underselling themselves. By their own assessment, they underestimated themselves in the match against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.
This team has the talent to take down any team in the conference, and Chapman knows that. But it seems like when players get in a hole, they tend to doubt themselves. And for a team this good, there shouldn’t be any doubt.