Columbia College volleyball entered Tuesday in an uncharacteristic slump.
Ahead of its matchup with William Penn (Iowa), the Cougars were on a three-game losing streak — a run it had not been since Sept. 3, 2016.
In addition, this was a grudge match. On Nov. 6, the Cougars dropped their first-ever game to William Penn, a result that marked the beginning of a losing trend for the 25th-ranked Cougars.
Columbia put an end to its early spring woes in convincing fashion with a straight-set (25-15, 25-21, 25-19) win over the Statesmen on Tuesday at the Southwell Complex.
“It was huge for us to get that momentum and that confidence,” Columbia coach Allison Smith-Olson said. “We came off of two really tough losses, but off of two really quality programs.”
Columbia (11-5, 4-1 American Midwest Conference) had been trending down, heading into this matchup with back-to-back losses against Missouri Baptist and a loss to Bellevue (Nebraska); William Penn was struggling. The Statesmen came to Columbia on the back of four victories, though it had not taken the court since Jan. 23.
William Penn’s break from play showed, and Columbia was able to punish the visitors by a combination of forcing it into errors, dominant runs of scoring and a pair of excellent individual performances from Aaliyah Durant and Luisa Ferreira.
Ferreira, a setter from Brazil, dictated the game for the Cougars throughout the three sets with her playmaking ability.
Ferreira ended the game with 31 assists, four more than the Statesmen’s entire team.
“I thought (Ferreira) did a great job of moving the ball around and changing some of our sets up,” Jones-Olson said. “She runs a great offense for us.”
At the net, outside hitter Aaliyah Durant led Columbia with 12 kills, picking up more than one kill on every three attempts.
“(Durant has) been a pleasant surprise,” Jones-Olson said. “She’s come on here in the last couple matches for us and is playing really well. She’s taken her shot when she’s getting in, and really given us a lot of confidence and bringing a lot of talent to our game.”
Aside from the individual performances, Columbia’s win can be traced to three 6-1 mid-set runs — one in each set.
In the first set, a 6-1 run pushed the Cougars five points up when the teams had been locked at nine points apiece after trading blows for the entire first portion. The Cougars went on to win that set and then produced two more vital 6-1 runs in the second and third sets when down five and seven, respectively.
Columbia was able to come back from those sizeable deficits by limiting its errors. Putting up just 11 over the course of the match — compared to William Penn’s 25 — limited the Statesmen’s ability to match the Cougars’ impressive runs.
“We’ve been working on that a lot,” Jones-Olson said. “We’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot a lot lately.”
“We make a huge play, and then we can’t covert it and keep it alive. They’re working hard on that, and I appreciate it. It looks like we did a great job with that today.”
A four-loss streak has been unheard of for Columbia volleyball in recent years, and avoiding the ignominy of going on such a run Tuesday could prove pivotal in the Cougars’ season.
Columbia is scheduled to play in the CC Quad tournament Saturday and Sunday, though its opponents are as of yet unannounced.