The crowds had cleared out, the opponent was about to leave and basketball hoops were already set up in Alumni Gym.

And the Elon University volleyball team was still in its locker room.

Halfway through the conference season and still without a victory, some self-evaluation was needed as the Phoenix saw its losing streak increase to nine after a three-set loss to College of Charleston.

“Starting the second half, we’re going to be seeing teams for a second time,” said Elon head coach Mary Tendler. “We had to re-establish some goals. Obviously, we’re not happy about being 0-8 after the first half. The goal is to be the most improved team in the second half.”

Elon is in the midst of its first season in the Colonial Athletic Association, a step up from its old home in the Southern Conference. The CAA has provided a steeper challenge than anticipated, and the Phoenix knows it.

“We are fully aware [of being winless in the CAA],” Tendler said. “Every game, we focus on improving. We’ve gotten players healthy in the last couple weeks. We’re gelling together and having, individually, some big nights. We also need more of a team effort moving forward and a little more consistency.”

Elon last won Sept. 23 at North Carolina Central University. What’s now become an 11-game losing streak began Sept. 26 as the team began CAA play against Hofstra University.

After losing its first four conference games, Elon lost in three sets on the road Oct. 7 by the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, a former SoCon rival.

During this losing streak, Elon has been swept five times and has only gone to five sets once — Oct. 24 at Northeastern University. In CAA-only stats, Elon ranks at the bottom of the conference in hitting percentage, opponent hitting percentage, assists and kills. 

So, there’s a lot of work to be done.

“It’s a little bit of everything,” said sophomore middle blocker Ally Karle. “We’re working on slowing down left sides coming at us, which would definitely be key. But there’s not one specific spot in our game [that] is worse than others. Altogether, we need a team effort.”

But that doesn’t mean the team hasn’t seen some high points along the way.

Of the 33 sets Elon has lost during the losing streak, 12 have been decided by three points or less. The Phoenix dropped the first two sets against Northeastern Oct. 24 but rallied to win the third and fourth to force a decisive fifth set, which the Huskies won 15-12. Elon has been in most of its sets but just can’t find a way to finish.

“We’re always neck and neck with them up until the end,” said junior outside hitter Megan Gravley. “We need to focus on being mentally tough throughout the end and the entire match. We have the skills, we have the personnel. It’s mental — we have to finish the sets.”

The second half of conference play should help a bit with the team’s mentality. With the way CAA play is set up, each team plays everybody twice — once at home and once on the road.

Elon has already played all eight CAA teams.

At the start of the conference season, Elon’s lack of experience playing many of the CAA teams was a disadvantage. Now familiarity could help the Phoenix as it searches for its first victory in the league.

“It helps with treating them like a rival,” said senior middle blocker Kris Harris. “Now we’ve seen everyone once, so we’re able to know that a person always hits the line or always hits cross. We pick up on their tendencies.”

Karle said the team’s mindset for the second half of CAA play is simple: “Let’s get ‘em. This is our second chance. Let’s ball out.”

There’s a lot to be done, and the CAA opponents won’t back down when they see Elon. Regardless, Tendler has seen a lot of positives from her team during this losing streak and has learned one important thing about her players.

“They have a great attitude,” she said. “We’re on a long losing streak, yet they come to practice every day ready to go. To me, that’s very impressive. It shows the character they have.”

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