Shaelynn Schmidt and Siobhan Sorensen stepped onto the court, side by side, for the their first Empire 8 competition on Sept. 20 at Hartwick College. The two wide-eyed freshmen joined their teammates on the floor. As they crossed the white lines, they honed their focus on the only match that matters: the match ahead. In the wake of several injuries to key players, the freshmen are stepping up.
Schmidt, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter from Piney Point, Md., has been a focal point of the Bombers’ attack. She currently leads all players with 126 kills and has added 53 digs for the Blue and Gold. After her performance in the SUNY-New Paltz Invitational, she was selected for the all-tournament team. Schmidt tallied 31 kills, 11 digs and four blocks during that four-game stretch.
Head coach Janet Donovan applauded Schmidt’s play against a tough opponent.
“New Paltz is probably one of the best SUNY teams this year, and I was very pleased that she put up a .425 hitting percentage,” she said. “[Schmidt] had 19 kills and only two errors, which for any hitter, no matter what year, is a great match. I’m very pleased for her, and that performance should give her some added confidence.”
In the last two tournaments, Schmidt averaged a full set more played per match than she had during the first three tournaments of the season, which contributed to a spike in her total points scored. Schmidt said she sets goals for herself every week to chart her improvement.
“Last weekend my goal was to get my hitting percentage up, and I doubled what is expected for an outside hitter to hit,” she said. “So I just try to make a different goal for wherever I play. My next goal may be to work on my defense, and it’s different every time.”
Recently, several starting players were hit with injuries, which caused them to miss substantial playing time. Maggie Mutschler, a freshman defensive specialist, has a fractured left pinky finger, which is sidelining her indefinitely, according to Donovan. Rylie Bean, a junior outside hitter, has braces on both of her sprained ankles and Grace Chang, a freshman outside hitter, has fully recovered from a sprained ankle after missing the first eight matches of the season.
Schmidt said both her mindset and role changed once her teammates were hurt.
“Coming in, I felt like, ‘I’m a freshman, I should just sit back a little and watch,’ but once injuries happen you can’t do that anymore,” she said. “We really stress the idea of a no-class structure on the volleyball court, so [Donovan] really expects everyone to step up.”
Schmidt is positioned across from Sorenson on the court. A 6-foot-1 right-side hitter from Castleton, N.Y., Sorensen has established herself as a defensive presence during her first year, leading the team with 27 blocks. Sorensen said she’s looking to improve her vision on the floor so she can read plays and react faster.
“This is only my third year playing, so there are many aspects I need to improve,” she said. “Not only physical skills, but also just seeing the court and understanding the players on my side of the net and knowing what I can do with my skill set to help my team the most.”
Donovan said the more time Sorensen gets on the court, the more she improves.
“She started to get more confident at the net,” Donovan said. “She was blocking some pretty good hitters — some juniors and some seniors — out there. She’s just learning that position, and every day she gets better, and she learns a little bit more.”