Despite their best efforts, the Lions were swept in straight sets by the Brown Bears.

After a loss to Yale in the Ivy League home opener the previous night, Columbia Women’s Volleyball (3-9, 0-3 Ivy) entered Saturday hoping to add a win to its record with a victory against Brown (6-6, 2-1 Ivy). Under the lights of Levien Gymnasium, the Lions stepped out to the sounds of Empire State of Mind, eager to regain their footing after a shaky start to the season.

However, this would be no small task. Brown, the returning Ivy League champions, came to Columbia after sweeping Cornell (3-9, Ivy 1-2) in Ithaca the night before. They had shown themselves to be as strong as ever, with their middle blockers dominating the center of the court, going 8-2 in blocks against Cornell. To successfully keep up with them, Columbia would have to match them in that category, as well as manage to slow down their high-paced offense, led by Sophia Miller (Brown ’23). And the chances of that were, to be quite honest, not good. Against Yale (11-1, Ivy 3-0), the Lions’ offense struggled, putting up an abysmal hitting percentage of 0.013%. They desperately needed to improve, both in terms of reducing their errors and creating more opportunities for kills and scoring.

The first set started off even, with the two teams trading points back and forth for the first several minutes. But the Bears always seemed to have more control of the situation than the Lions. Anytime a rally occurred, their blockers were always a bit faster, their sets more precise, and their hits more accurate. Columbia was kept in the game by an excellent performance by outside hitter Saj McBurrows (CC ‘23), who racked up four kills in the first half of the set. But that kind of performance is simply not sustainable. Brown kept getting runs, building a lead, and forcing Columbia to catch up. The Lions got a stroke of luck from a string of attack errors committed by their opponents, allowing them to close the gap, but Brown quickly cleaned up their play. They proceeded to extend their lead through another run, and then played conservatively to close out the set with a final score of 25-20. Throughout all of this, although the Columbia team remained positive, it seemed as though their coach was becoming more and more frustrated, calling timeouts that seemed to accomplish less with each subsequent one.

Coming into the second set, the match was looking grim. Brown was already blowing Columbia out of the water in terms of blocks and led in practically every other statistical category. Unless the entire team stepped up, it seemed as though the Bears were in the perfect position to keep charging forward. Although the set once again started off even, this was largely due to subpar play from both sides. Attack errors gifted points away regularly, but about a third of the way through, this changed. Behind by a small deficit, outside hitter Kiara Robichaud (CC ‘23) stepped up to the plate, with four kills, leading the Lions to their first lead of the entire match with a score of 15-14. For the first time, there was light at the end of the tunnel. Columbia looked as good as they ever had, and multiple members of the team contributed to the scoring, further extending their lead. This was it: a chance to reclaim the match. The scoreboard read 24-20 in Columbia’s favor. Alas, volleyball is not a forgiving sport. The Bears, perhaps realizing the gravity of the situation, awakened something inside of themselves. A six-point run by Brown shut down Columbia’s hope to even up the match and crushed the enthusiasm of the home crowd. 26-24.

The third set started dismally, and the atmosphere did not improve as the clock continued to run. After the first couple of minutes, Brown already held a five-point lead, and the Lions could do little to cut it down. Instead, service and attack errors plagued the team, and despite taking timeouts, there seemed to be nothing that could rally the players and bring them back to their previous states. The Bears, on the other hand, did not slow down, only increasing the gap in points as the set went on. This final set ended at a score of 25-15, letting Brown complete their sweep in straight sets. What can the Lions take away from this match? Despite commendable performances by Robichaud and McBurrows, the team’s middle is sorely lacking, one of the main factors that allowed Brown’s offense to feast. The Columbia offense too, although looking promising at times, could not achieve the consistency that is necessary to win important games such as these. Columbia will hope to improve and replan prior to their game against the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on Friday, October 7.

Photo via Yacob Melman