COLUMBIA — The sidelines were enemies and the black strings of the net conspired to knock down and trap the balls.
Stephens College, in its opening game, fell to Columbia College 25-9, 25-13, and 25-12 on Tuesday at the Arena of Southwell Complex. The Stars, under new coach Shane McAfee, struggled to hold their own against the top team in the American Midwest Conference while the Cougars approached the game as an opportunity to give new players a chance to compete.
"We're playing better as a team," Christy Sontag, who logged her first minutes on the court as a Cougar, said. "We're getting used to each other."
While both coaches looked at the game as a learning experience, each had a different view of what lessons the matchup would yield. Columbia College coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said she wanted to use the game as a way to test new lineups and experiment, while McAfee was hopeful that the women on his team would learn from their opponents' play.
"It's real hard opening up against the best team in your conference, one of the best teams in the country," McAfee said.
Despite being favored, Wrye-Washington and the Cougars gave this game as much effort and intensity as any other. Cate Eckhardt, a Columbia College captain, noted that the Cougars are the ones that everyone dreams of beating.
"We're everybody's biggest game," Eckhardt said.
One thing that Stephens did not need to worry about, however, was an overwhelming crowd. Though the match marked the meeting of two Columbia teams, Wrye-Washington's pregame prediction that the stands would not be packed proved to be true.
"We're not really worried about the crowd being too big and hurting our game," McAfee said before the game. "We're more concerned about what the actual players are going to do to us."
Giving every player except freshman Kelsey Keeling a chance to play, Columbia College dominated the game. Stephens' longest scoring drive was just three points and the Stars lost the first two games by hitting the ball out of bounds. As knees skidded and thudded against the shiny wood floor, the Stephens players' lunges were often too late to save the kills from Eckhardt, Maria Omondi, and Sontag, among others.
"You mishandle a ball against Columbia and they'd run six or seven points against you," McAfee said.
While Wrye-Washington said she was pleased with her team, she also pointed out that they still need to work on their defensive discipline and that they let too many balls drop. McAfee also saw holes in his team's defense and thought that the players needed to work on receiving serves. Though the game showed him where he needs to make improvements, McAfee said that the team handled the situation well on the whole.
"I was more disappointed in the individual things we did," McAfee said. "I'm not disappointed in the way we played."