By Emmanuel Berbari
Volleyball entered the weekend with one mission: turning its late non-conference surge into Atlantic 10 success. Winners of six of their last seven, Ian Choi’s squad hoped everything was rounding into form at the right time.
For the time being, that appears to be the case, as the Rams picked up a five-set victory over a Rhode Island group that was projected to finish ahead of them in the conference’s preseason poll.
“Starting off conference with a win, especially over Rhode Island, is such an amazing feeling,” said sophomore McKenna Lahr, who continued her effective play with 13 kills, 10 digs and two aces in the victory.
As for that poll, the Rams of Rhode Island were picked to finish sixth. The Rams of Rose Hill slotted in at number seven.
“Rhode Island has always been consistent and we really focused on how to defend against their offense,” said Lahr. “I think it showed with the amount of blocks our team got this weekend.”
Junior Kaitlyn Morley added 15 kills and 11 digs, junior Morgan Williams contributed a team-leading 17 digs, pulling her career total up above 1,000—becoming the sixth Ram to reach that plateau, and, speaking of defending that URI offense—it helps when you have the A-10 Defensive Player of the Week on your side. Junior Elise Benjamin continues to be a force near the net, as her 11 blocks helped the Rams persevere through losses in the second and third sets.
“I think the next big thing for us is to stay consistent throughout the entire game. We started off against Rhode Island flawlessly, and then slowed down a bit in the second and third sets,” said Lahr. “We have always been great at fighting back and pulling through in the end, but I think if we could stay consistent throughout the second and third sets, we could avoid always going to five sets in the future.”
One constant throughout the five-set battle was the play of freshman Makaela Tanaka, who delivered 37 assists, her fifth-highest total of the season. Despite the young age, that’s become the norm, as Tanaka’s season total is up to a stellar 337.
“Makaela is super hard working, always coming in for extra reps, and she has a really high volleyball IQ,” said Lahr. “She spreads the offense so well and knows when to attack on her own end.”
Fordham out-blocked (17.5-7) and out-assisted (54-53) its counterpart in the narrow win. The program-record block total was inflated not only by Benjamin, but Lahr, who increased her presence around the net.
“[Six blocks] was a huge improvement for me,” said Lahr. “I have never really had a big presence with blocking so I’m happy I had the chance to help the team and get some good blocks and block touches.”
Next up for the Rams are matchups with Duquesne and La Salle on Friday and Sunday, respectively. Both games will take place at the Rose Hill Gym, which is a welcome sight for a team in a groove, but even more so for Fordham, a team on a five-game home winning streak after dropping its first two.
“We’ve been working so hard in practice and in preseason,” said Lahr. “It feels like it’s paying off already.”