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Volleyball goes through balanced stretch

Over the last two weeks, the Brandeis Judges volleyball squad traveled to St. Louis, Missouri to compete in their first University Athletic Association (UAA) Round Robin of the season, in addition to frequenting Maine to compete against the top teams in both the New England Small College Athletic Conference and North Atlantic Conference. After starting the season 3-0, undefeated in all nine sets, the Brandeis Women’s volleyball team faced their toughest competition yet in the UAA Round Robin. The Judges recovered, though, and successfully ended their two-week stretch on a three-game winning streak, topping host Bowdoin College and Maine Maritime in four sets. The Judges are 8-5 on the season thus far.

While the Judges brought their A-game to WashU to face off Carnegie Mellon and NYU in the first UAA Round Robin, the Brandeis volleyball squad fell short to both opponents by 3-0 scores. All three games against the Tartans were incredibly close (25-23, 25-22, 25-23); in the first and second set, neither team led by more than three points, but the Judges were unable to hold on to their late advantages. In the third set, the Judges survived two match points at 24-21, but couldn’t force extra points in a 25-23 loss. In the second match of the day, the Judges remained competitive against the NYU Violets, but were unable to secure the win in another close match; the Judges fell to the Violets in three sets (25-21, 25-20, 25-19) as they were unable to recover from early leads in the first two sets. The Judges were determined to establish an early lead in the third, spearheaded by grad student Sydney Bent (GRAD); unfortunately, though, Brandeis was unable to recover from a six-zero Violets run. 

In the first UAA Round Robin of the 2022-23 season, Bent was the offensive player of the game for the Brandeis Judges; she totaled 20 kills and four service aces on the day; defensively, Bent led the Judges with 18 digs in the first match and 14 in the second. First year Anna Erischek ’26 gave her squad an offensive edge, finishing with eight kills in each match, while hitting .208 across both matches. Ines Grom-Mansenecal ’24, the Judges veteran setter, rounded out the box score with two double-doubles—21 assists and 13 digs against the Tartans and 17 and 16 against the Violets; individually, Grom-Mansenecal had a career high six kills against NYU. 

Before returning to Waltham, Massachusetts to prepare for their Maine trip, the Brandeis volleyball squad faced WashU in their final match of the opening UAA Round Robin tournament. Unfortunately, WashU utilized their home court advantage to defeat the Judges in a 3-0 decision; set scores were 25-22, 25-10, 25-20. Sophomore Lara Verstovsek ’25 helped her squad offensively with seven kills, while libero Ella Pereira ’24 tallied 13 digs. While the Judges were unable to pull out a win in the UAA opener weekend, Grom-Mansenecal finished with her third-straight double-double, 25 and 13, and her fifth in the last six matches. 

In a double-header in Lewiston, Maine, the Judges split with Colby and Bates, earning a much-needed win after falling 3-0 in conference play just a few days prior. In the first set against Colby, the Mules extended their early 4-0 lead over the Judges to 6-2, and never trailed for the remainder of the set. The second set was hard fought, as the Judges secured the win; Arianna Jackson ’25 capped off a six-zero run for Brandeis with a forceful ace. The Judges held the lead the rest of the set and Verstovsek’s block followed by a kill closed things out for the Brandeis squad. The Mules took the next two sets, defeating Brandeis 3-1 (25-19, 22-25, 25-22, 27-25), but the Judges remained focused and determined to snap their four-game losing streak; and that they did against Bates College. 

In three sets, the Judges defeated Bates with set scores of 25-23, 25-17, 25-15. Against the hosts, the Judges found themselves playing catch-up after the Bobcats raced out to a 13-5 lead, which they quickly extended to 19-10. Senior leader Stephanie Borr ’23 remained composed at the service line, serving 11 straight points, including a pair of service aces, to gain the Brandeis lead, 21-19. The teams traded the next eight points, but the Judges closed out the comeback, 25-23. The Bobcats took an early lead in the second set, but the Judges went on a 10-2 run, highlighted by a pair of Verstovsek aces to make it a 20-14 lead; the Judges never trailed again in the remainder of the match. 

Scoring 28.5 points in the two matches, Verstovsek executed on both ends, finishing with a match-high 14 kills against Colby and nine against Bates; she also tallied four aces against the hosts and three block assists across both matches. Defensively, the Judges executed at the net accounting a season-high for 13 blocks against Colby. Rita Lai ’24 had a season-high eight-blocks, one shy of her career-high, while Bent tallied five and Jackson finished with four. Ertischek got in on the action against Colby, too, with 12 kills and three blocks. Bent led the team with 16 digs against the Mules and Borr finished with 16 digs against Bates; she also had five service aces. Ines Grom-Mansenecal continued her incredible play with 35 assists and 14 digs against Colby and 23 assists and nine digs against Bates; she was one dig shy of her fifth consecutive double-double. 

On the last leg of their road game stretch, the Judges picked up two non-conference wins in Brunswick, Maine to improve their season record to 8-5. The Judges won a pair of four-set matches, topping host Bowdoin (20-25, 25-17, 25-20, 25-19) and Maine Maritime (25-19, 27-25, 21-25, 25-18). After falling to the Polar Bears in the first set, the Judges led for the entire second set, taking an early 4-2 lead and never looked back. In the third set, Brandeis found themselves trailing again, but Verstovsek’s two kills and Bent’s two aces gave the Judges the 16-14 advantage they needed. Tied at 17-all, Jackson stopped Bowdoin’s momentum with a kill and three straight service points; the Judges successfully closed out the third set and defeated the Polar Bears 3-1 in the final set. 

After dropping the first point of the match against Maine Maritime, the Brandeis Judges never trailed again. The second set was a back-and-forth affair, but timely blocks by Jackson and Ertischek gave the Judges an early 8-6 lead. After tying it up once more, the Judges went on another run sparked by Ertischek’s kill. The excitement and suspense continued in Bowdoin’s arena, as MMA responded with a 5-1 run, tying things up 15-all; neither team scored more than two straight points for a stretch, but Maritime did gain a crucial 23-21 lead late in the game. Verstovsek and Bent answered with back to back kills to tie things up at 23-all, but MMA earned set point. Verstovsek would not let her team fall without a fight, though, and she answered MMA’s kill with one of her own, sparking a 4-1 run that gave Brandeis a 27-25 win. While not as suspenseful, the Judges secured the last set, 25-18.

Against Bowdoin, Verstovsek set a team-season high and career high with 19 kills; she also added 12 digs for her first double-double of the season and the seventh of her career. On 42 attempts, Verstovsek made just five errors for a .333 hitting percentage. Clearly, Lara Verstovsek came to play. Bent added 11 kills and 20 digs for her third double-double, while finishing with a team-high four service ace. Junior setter Grom-Mansenecal had another impressive game with 40 assists and nine digs. Against Maine Maritime, Grom-Mansenecal recorded her eight double-double of the seasons with 45 assists and 16 digs. Teammates Borr and Bent finished with 15 and 14 digs, respectively. First year Ertischek paced the offense with 18 kills, a career best, with only 3 errors in 32 attempts for a .432 hitting percentage. 

The Judges look to increase their three-game winning streak against Clark University on Thursday, Sept. 29 at 6 p.m. in their first home match in nearly a month.

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