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Volleyball digs deep in historically dominant season

Junior+defensive+specialist+Ellie+Benedict+has+taken+part+in+the+Ithaca+College+volleyball+teams+historic+hot+stretch.+During+the+regular+season%2C+the+team+won+24+out+of+25+sets+in+conference+play.
Noa Ran-Ressler
Junior defensive specialist Ellie Benedict has taken part in the Ithaca College volleyball team’s historic hot stretch. During the regular season, the team won 24 out of 25 sets in conference play.

The Ithaca College volleyball program is in the midst of a historic dominant stretch. The team has compiled an overall record of 23–4, winning all eight matches against Liberty League opponents this season, including 24 of its 25 sets played. 

In 2022, the Bombers finished with an improved 25–5 record from the previous season, winning the Liberty League Championship and advancing to the second round of the NCAA tournament. In 2021, the team only won 16 matches, winning six out of seven of its Liberty League matches.

Head coach Johan Dulfer said volleyball is a far from perfect game and that the team emphasizes focusing on its normal routines during practice to make sure the athletes limit their mistakes.

“We practice the basics over and over again as it’s really important in volleyball that you practice the way the game looks,” Dulfer said. “We can practice perfect scenarios all we want, but volleyball is a game of limiting errors and dealing with chaotic situations. We’ve become pretty good at it — if there’s trouble in paradise you still have to know what to do.”

Dulfer said the team’s mindset is not focused on defending its Liberty League title from 2022, but rather holding that mentality that this is a new situation for the team, adding a source of motivation that they still have work to do.

“I feel that this team feels strongly that it has something to prove, a really healthy scenario to be coming from,” Dulfer said. “There’s a little chip on their shoulder and we do that in a very respectful way. It’s a good way to describe the situation we’re in as we don’t talk about defending last year’s championship, but rather about attacking and earning another one.”

This season, the Bombers added nationally ranked competition to their schedule, facing off against schools such as No. 4 ranked New York University, No. 8 ranked Johns Hopkins University and No. 13 ranked Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Bombers defeated NYU and MIT in four sets, but dropped to Johns Hopkins in three sets.

Dulfer said the team has superb depth and that every class has made major contributions throughout the roster. Dulfer also mentioned that there is always at least one great first-year student who makes a huge leap in performance to help the team.

“Every year we seem to have one or two first-years contributing and this year’s first-year class has contributed way beyond their playing time,” Dulfer said. “We’re 15 deep with this roster and this is the first time I can say that our roster is this deep and it’s really impressive. Each class has its own contributions and this first-year class has blended themselves so well both on and off the court.”

One of those first-year athletes making an immediate impact is outside hitter Gabriela Gonzalez-Abreu. Earlier this season, Gonzalez-Abreu was recognized with two Liberty League Rookie of the Week honors for the weeks of Oct. 2 and 16. Gonzalez-Abreu said that being a part of the team has exceeded her expectations and that everyone supports each other no matter the role they play with the team.

“I’m having so much fun and it’s everything I expected,” Gonzalez-Abreu said. “I’m so happy to be on a team that has great people on it and we all get along really well. The players that have been here for a while have really helped and there’s always someone. Everyone helps each other out and they make it easier.”

Junior outside hitter and captain Faith Sabatier has played a significant role in the team’s leadership structure. Sabatier said she and her fellow captains and upperclassmen have to continue to set the right example for the group as the team closes out its regular season slate.

“With great power comes great responsibility and we worked hard for this,” Sabatier said. “As we near the Liberty League playoffs and NCAA postseason that comes with a lot more leadership, me and my other captains and people in my class have really stepped up to the plate and led by example. We’ve been setting ground rules and a lot of everyone’s leadership and work speaks for itself and that’s really helped prepare us for what’s to come in season.”

Sabatier said the team has exponentially grown in experience during her time with the program, as the team has seemingly improved each season since her first year.

“The biggest difference from when I came in my first year was that it was the post-COVID season and I felt that it was really hard to find the common goal and no one knew what they were doing,” Sabatier said. “There were so many uncertainties that I would almost describe that as a rebuilding season and this year the athletes could come in and transition quickly with the ground rules we’ve had in place the last two years now. There was not much organization with that, so the biggest difference is that we’ve got our team culture set for many years to come.”

Having these ground rules set in place for the team has helped the squad set its goals properly and find what motivates them the most to succeed.

Gonzalez-Abreu said the team has found motivation in visualizing the postseason and playing one more game every week, as well as playing for each other. 

“I think that we all want to keep playing because we all love playing this sport and we can’t make it far without having that spark that everyone wants to play,” Gonzalez-Abreu said. “Everyone has fun playing and it’s so much more fun to win, we just want to keep playing, keep having fun and keep getting better.”

Dulfer said that at this point in the season, he has liked what he has seen from the team and that he has a high level of confidence in the squad’s ability to get the job done in the playoffs.

“All we have to do is win as at this point, it comes down to a little bit of luck and trusting our preparation,” Dulfer said. “We’ve played a relatively strong schedule where we may have lost a couple, but we’ve played some of the best teams in the country and we belonged in the gym with all of them. I sense a calm confidence that I like and we just have to keep trusting that.”

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Noa Ran-Ressler, Staff writer
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