While pink streamers may have waved in the entranceway of the Steven Plofker and Bobbi Brown Gym Saturday, and pink and white balloons may have hovered against a background of purple and gold, the decorations didn’t overshadow the signs stating the harsh facts about breast cancer.
The Emerson women’s volleyball players donned pink T-shirts and neon laces as they took to the court in the college’s second annual Dig Pink for Breast Cancer event, a fundraiser for the Side-Out Foundation. The team split its conference double-header against St. Joseph’s (Me.) and Norwich University as it closed out its regular season with a conference record of 10-2.
For head coach Ben Read, who started the event last fall in his inaugural year with the athletics program, the October fundraiser had personal ties.
“Last year, I ended up doing [the Dig Pink game] and found out shortly after we decided to do it that my aunt had breast cancer,” Read said. “She’s a survivor. It’s amazing how close it can hit home sometimes, and I guess it can really affect you and everyone around you.”
Spirits were high as the Lions jumped out to an early lead against St. Joseph’s, but both teams had trouble settling into a rhythm early on. Though Emerson took the first set, the Monks continued to play strong defensively, with player Erica Russi accumulating 26 digs in five sets.
The match featured several circus-like points in which the acrobatics of both the Lions and the Monks were tested as players dove to keep the ball alive. At times, Emerson players let the ball drop between them while the Monks closed in and imposed themselves in front of the net. After five sets, it was St. Joseph’s who claimed victory 3-2.
Sophomore middle blocker Kat Rice said that smaller errors cost Emerson points in the end.
“I think our serve and receive were bad, and we made a lot of little mistakes, like not covering people and not being where we should,” said Rice, who had 33 kills through both matches. “Things we’ve known to do since we were little.”
Entering Saturday’s matches, the Lions came off their first conference defeat of the season. The loss, which came 3-1 against Johnson & Wales University, was Emerson’s first in 22 games of regular season conference play.
“I think we kind of had maybe a few nerves coming off of the JWU loss,” said junior libero Jamie Morgan, who had 19 digs against St. Joseph’s. “Obviously, that was kind of tough. We just wanted to get in here and look to play how we play and win some games.”
Between games, outside hitter Alex Lynn said that the Lions did their best to put the first match behind them and prepare themselves for Norwich.
“We all just took a deep breath and calmed down,” said the sophomore, who had 20 kills on the day. “You’ve got to just shake something like that off, you know, go into the next game ready to play your game. Everyone showed up.”
While Emerson only notched three aces in their first match of the day, they earned victory against Norwich with an amassed 17 aces through three sets.
The game included a comeback by Emerson in the second set, in which the Lions overcame the Cadets by winning 16 of 18 points to take the set 25-15.
With the day’s split results, the Lions dropped to second place in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference.
While Read was disappointed that there is no longer the possibility for his team to host a potential championship game, he said that facing challenging opponents has prepared Emerson for the post-season.
“We knew that with Rivier, if they did their job and won out, we needed to win both these games to secure first place [in the conference],” Read said. “It was a bit of a heartbreaker, but I knew coming into it that those teams were pretty good, and we just didn’t play our best. Hopefully we learned from that…and continue going on a roll here during playoffs.”
The Lions advanced to the GNAC semifinals with a 3-0 win over Mt. Ida College last night. They will take on Johnson & Wales University tomorrow night at home.
Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.