As the regular season starts to wind down, the women’s volleyball team finds itself in the middle of a heated playoff chase as the squad tries to snap a three-year drought.
Since starting the season 3-3, the Lions have started to pick it up as of late, winning seven of their past 13 matches.
Head coach Ben Read attributes the Lions’ recent hot stretch to their ability and desire to get better every day.
“We’ve definitely improved a lot of things on the court with our serving consistency, passing, hustle and our offense has cleaned up a little bit,” Read said. “We’re doing a lot of things so that everything is a little better than it was at the beginning of the season.”
The Lions have not clinched a spot in the tournament since 2012 when they won the Great Northeast Conference before the school eventually left the conference in search of better competition.
Getting to the playoffs is easier said than done in the competitive New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference, or NEWMAC, that houses one of the top teams in the country, no. 25 Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Currently sitting two and a half games out of a playoff spot with a 2-5 conference record, there is plenty of room for improvement on the court for the Lions.
“Knowing situations like where to go with the ball and what to do with the ball is the difference between us now winning and losing some points,” Read said. “It’s also the difference between being competitive and beating these future opponents.”
Junior middle-hitter Annie Hall said she knows that each opponent they play down the road will bring about an area they need to improve.
“In some games you’re going to face teams whose strength is hitting so we’re going to need our defense or service safe passers to step up, then some games they could have really big blockers,” Hall, a visual and media arts major, said. “That will make it more difficult for some people so we’ll have to step up.”
The Lions have conference games slated against U.S. Coast Guard Academy, who made it to the first round of the tournament last season; MIT; and then at home against Clark University, the third-ranked team in the NEWMAC.
The schedule may pose a challenge to the Lions’ postseason hopes, but they said they aren’t worried.
“We’re just going to continue to do what we’re doing,” senior captain and defensive specialist/setter Giuli Frendak said. “We don’t want to psych ourselves out at all and as long as we keep working hard in practice and take one or two things out of each game, we’ll be fine.”
No matter where the Lions sit in the playoff chase, junior defensive specialist Jessica Hamilton said she knows they aren’t looked at as a serious candidate to win the conference or even make it to the playoffs.
“For the past three years since being in NEWMAC, we have never really been a threat,” Hamilton, a marketing communication major said. “I feel like some of the bigger teams [like] MIT, Coast Guard, etc. see us as the underdogs.”
The list of tasks this group must accomplish to reach the postseason is of frequent conversation in the locker room.
“It’s always in the back of our mind,” Frendak, a journalism major said. “We talk about what record we need to what NEWMAC games we have coming up to what games are important in the sense of must wins to make the playoffs.”
The Lion’s roster is composed of 15 players—13 of which are slated to return next season. Read said he knows that number along with their desire to win is something that sets this team apart from past years.
“We’re playing with a lot of youth,” the head coach said. “This is one of the most competitive teams I’ve had since I’ve been here.”
Now in the midst of his fifth year at the helm of the program, Read said he would like nothing better than to get back into the postseason.
“It would be an unbelievable accomplishment,” Read said. “Especially considering all we have went through.”