The University of Rhode Island volleyball team continued their surge, defeating George Washington University 3-1 on Friday and then prevailing on senior night in straight sets over George Mason University in what was a night of celebration for the departing Ram players as well as their beloved head coach.
The Rams (16-9, 11-2) started their last home series with a matchup against GW (10-18, 3-10), looking to maintain their second-place standing in the Atlantic 10. The opening set was competitive, with Rhode Island holding a slight edge late before going on a mini-run to clinch it 25-20. The second set saw a similar trend unfold, when the Rams built up a comfortable 24-20 lead. The Colonels saved four set points to put the pressure on URI, but senior Audrey Castro had the last word with a kill to build a commanding 2-0 set lead.
George Washington came alive in the third set though, steamrolling the Rams 25-11, and winning 11 of the last 14 points. The Colonels unloaded their full arsenal with a hitting percentage of 56, while they held the Rams to just nine percent. The complexion of the match reverted back to the prior two sets, with both teams tied at 16, before URI again distanced itself, winning nine of the next 14 points to clinch the match and get their last home stand to a good start. Senior Audrey Castro led the way with 13 kills while junior Kylee Wolfe tallied nine kills and 11 digs.
The Rams took Keaney floor for the last time this season on Saturday night against a George Mason team (7-19, 3-10) that, like GW, had been stuck in the cellars of the A-10 throughout the season. URI came in with hopes of acquiring one of two first-round byes at the A-10 Championship and the team hit the ground running, taking the first set 25-14. They were led by Castro, who had a match-high 13 kills. Fellow seniors Layne Self and Callan Kinnan nearly missed out on double-double performances tallying nine kills and eight block assists, and 33 assists and nine digs, respectively.
The Rams took the next two sets by a score of 25-16 to close out the match and give them a first-round bye in the A-10 tournament. It is the first time the Rams have earned a first-round bye since the league moved to a six-team tournament in 2006.
The victory magnified what was a night full of celebration and goodbyes. The senior trio of Castro, Self and Kinnan were honored before the game for their contributions to the program, as they leave a lasting legacy that includes 69 wins, making them the most successful URI class in two decades. Their impact has been felt by the younger players, who figure to provide the team with stability and promise going forward. No one understands their value better than the person who recruited them, head coach Bob Schneck, who coincidentally will also be departing from URI, as he prepares to wrap up a 36-year career at the end of the year. Schneck shared the spotlight with the senior class, and himself was honored after winning what was his final home game.
“The kids, I’ve enjoyed every class that’s been here, I’ve never gone to work a day,” Schneck said in response to what he will miss most about his tenure at Rhode Island. Coach Schneck remained focused on the task at hand, which is wrestling the A-10 title from the clear favorite, the University of Dayton (26-1, 12-0). URI can rest a little easier knowing they will now only need one win to earn their its way into the conference championship game.
“Now that we have the bye, that took the pressure right off and we’re going to have fun playing against Fordham next week,” Schneck said. He was also optimistic about his team’s chances in the tournament. “Everybody we’re going to play in the semi-finals we’ve already beaten, and on any given day any team can win and we need to see if we can beat a team like Dayton.”
The Rams will close out the season this Saturday as they travel to the Bronx to take on Fordham University. The A-10 Tournament will take place in St. Louis on Nov. 18, as the team looks to cap off a prosperous era of URI volleyball with an illustrious conference title.