The seven incoming freshmen on the women’s volleyball team have been adapting to life with their new teammates inside the Ben Light Gymnasium for the last two weeks. The daily routine of setting up and taking down the nets, fetching loose balls and constantly interacting with teammates could be rewarded at the year’s end.
After losing roughly half of the squad from last season, the Bombers are counting on their established leaders, senior middle Rylie Bean and junior outside hitter Dylan Gawinski-Stern, and mixing in some new faces, to provide key contributions and lead the team to its first winning record since 2011.
After finishing the 2013 regular season with a 16–22 record, the Blue and Gold made it to the semifinal round of the Empire 8 Championship Tournament before falling to host Stevens Institute of Technology in straight sets, 3–0, on Nov. 9, 2013.
Junior setter Carly Garone said the team learned a lot from the Stevens loss heading into the 2014 season.
“It was pretty disappointing, but it was definitely a big learning experience for what we have to prepare for this year,” Garone said. “Especially [since] we got a lot of good freshmen that came in this year that are really going to be big contributors, so hopefully this year will be a different outcome.”
The South Hill squad lost two captains from last year to graduation, Syline Kim ’14 and Justine Duryea ’14. Additionally, sophomore Shaelynn Schmidt, an All-Empire 8 second-team selection last season, was lost to transfer after joining Barton College.
However, head coach Janet Donovan said she isn’t concerning herself with having a young team. Instead, she is taking a week-by-week approach with the squad rather than looking at the big picture.
“Volleyball is volleyball,” Donovan said. “You have to get in the foundation first, and the great thing is the [incoming freshmen], along with the returning players, have come in at a good level than the previous year.”
In the absence of its key players from last year, the team gained seven freshmen. Twelve of the 15 players on the team are underclassmen. Despite the lack of experience on the team, Garone said her teammates are determined to surmount the odds this season.
“I think we are so deep in talent this year that I don’t think it will affect us on the court,” Garone said. “We are really confident just by what we have seen so far in preseason.”
The Blue and Gold worked hard in the offseason, according to the starting setter. The team held spring sessions to work on skill and summer training programs to build endurance and strength. The spring clinic included passing, setting and hitting instruction, as well as 6-v-6 game play. Additionally, over the summer, the team performed individual lifts and conditioned to prepare for the season.
Garone said the work the team put in over the offseason helped build its poise for the new year.
“It is all about confidence, which I think we lacked last season,” Garone said. “So I think that will definitely push us forward.”
Regardless of whether or not the Bombers could return to the playoffs this year, Donovan said she would not let the last two years dictate the upcoming season.
“This year, I don’t think [talent is] going to be enough,” Donovan said. “The kids set the standard, and they have come in wanting more, and I am going to give them everything I’ve got. Our play will determine where we end up.”
Though the players have only been practicing with one another for two weeks, developing a rapport on the team can help the squad compete in the E8 conference, something it has struggled with in the past. In the past three seasons, the Bombers have floated around the .500 mark.
Sophomore middle Siobhan Sorensen said the lack of teamwork was the inevitable downfall of the Bombers in the playoffs last year but believes the team it has better camaraderie this season.
“I can already see the connection that we all share because each one of us has strong individual talent,” Sorensen said. “I think what we were lacking last year was putting it all together, but this year we have great chemistry.”
With the Blue and Gold hosting the Bomber Invitational, which begins Sept. 5, the hope is that with hard work and chemistry, the team can turn back the clock to 2010 and bring a championship title back to South Hill.
Donovan said regardless of the number of upperclassmen, in the end, it comes down to the players’ skills and execution.
“Like in any team, nothing can trump experience, and nothing can trump talent,” Donovan said. “But we do have talent, and what we lack in experience, we make up for in enthusiasm. These kids are coachable. Whatever we seem to give them to help them make their game better, they are taking it and running with it. I’ve [never] seen so much improvement in a short amount of time.”