Aidan Weiss | Staff Writer
Duquesne volleyball is off to its best start in a decade, as the team went 3-0 in the Robert Morris/Duquesne Invitational Tournament, bringing their record on the season to 5-1.
Duquesne cam out of the gates flying on Friday morning, when the team beat Canisius College in a four-set affair. Freshman Avery Hobson and graduate student Morgan Gish led the way with 22 and 20 kills, respectively.
The Dukes were then able to carry the momentum into their match against Robert Morris on Saturday, where they were able to snag a comfortable four-set win in Moon Township.
Things were much more intense in the nightcap on Friday, where the Dukes completed the sweep of the Golden Griffins. With multiple sets finishing within two points, the match came down to a fifth set, played to 15 points, where the Dukes were able to pull out a 15-12 victory.
The first set was a game of streaks, as Duquesne started off with a 6-1 lead before Canisus bounced back with a 5-1 run. However, the Dukes were able to pull away and win the set by a comfortable 25-19 margin. Hobson and Camille Spencer starred with five kills apiece, along with Chloe Wilmot’s 13 assists.
However, things tightened up in the second set. Neither team was able to open a lead of more than four points, and three lead changes in the set kept the momentum balanced. However, Canisius was able to hold a slight advantage late and won the set 25-23. A key reason for the turnaround was Canisius nearly doubling its attack percentage from .182 in the first set to .343 in the second. Despite overcoming a low percentage when scraping out a fourth-set victory, Canisius struggled to a .250 in a losing fifth-set effort.
The back and forth play continued into the third set, with neither team able to open up any sort of comfortable lead. The teams battled their way to a 22-22 scoreline, where the Dukes were able to get two big kills from Spencer and Hobson to give themselves a set point. Canisius was able to get one back, but a service error on the ensuing point gave the Dukes a slim 25-23 win and a crucial 2-1 set lead. Madison Grimm’s 10 digs in the set also played a crucial role in giving the Dukes the lead.
Canisius controlled the fourth set early, jumping out to leads of 15-7 and 18-11. However, the Dukes roared back to make it interesting, winning 13 of the next 19 points to tie things up at 24 and ensure that the set would have to go more than the standard 25 points. However, Canisius was able to take the lead, and at 26-25, they were able to put away the set with a monster kill, bringing up a winner-take-all fifth set.
The fifth set was back and forth early, with neither team being able to do too much. When the teams switched sides, the Dukes held a slim 8-6 lead. However, the Dukes went on a 6-4 run, bumping the lead to 14-10 and giving them four straight match points. The Golden Griffins tried to fight back, but it was in vain as the Dukes won 15-12 on a Canisius attack error.
“I just think it was who made the least amount of errors in the fifth set,” said Head Coach Steve Opperman after Friday evening’s win. “I thought we served better in the fifth set than we were serving in sets two, three and four, and we got them out of system just a little bit more.”
Even after the gut punch of the fourth set, the team was still able to come back and get to 4-1. A key reason for the early success has been the youth infusion of freshmen Chloe Wilmot, Hobson and Jordan Robertson, who have become key rotation players early for Opperman and his staff.
“They don’t play like freshmen. There’s times where they’ll make a silly mistake here and there, but for the most part, they just get after it, and they’re good players,” said Opperman. “They’re just confident. They’re not cocky or arrogant on the court, but they get after it.”
“Their work ethic, day-to-day, listening to the information that the coaching staff gives them and wanting to get better has really translated onto the playing field.”
The 5-1 start is the best for the program since 2012, when they started the season 8-1.
Several Duquesne players were honored after the tournament as well, the highlight being Gish winning tournament MVP for her 20 kills on Friday morning and six blocks on Friday night, both against Canisius. Additionally, Wilmot and Hobson both were given all-tournament honors for their play.
The Dukes will look to continue their historic start on Sept. 15 when they face East Carolina in the Virginia Tech Invitational.