As the season approaches its midpoint, Macalester Women’s Volleyball is working to optimize every play in hopes of turning each match into a win. Hovering around .500, the team has experienced its share of ups and downs but is using their mistakes to improve for future matches. “It’s been a roller coaster for us. At times we’ve been playing really well, but we’re just missing the mental piece of stepping up and playing to our potential,” Head Coach Annie Doman said.
Some losses may be attributed to the transitions in lineup the team has experienced this year and its youth. Last year’s two seniors, Bailey Rehnberg ’14 and three-time All-MIAC selection Laura Avena ’14, were integral to the squad, so adjusting to their absence has taken time but allowed the Scots to reinvent themselves. The first years smoothed this transition by bringing a lot of talent and energy to the team. “Having all of our first years come in and contribute right away makes our team a lot more even. We aren’t so reliant on one person and strategy-wise we’re able to mix it up a lot more,” Brooke Hunter ’17 said.
Being young has allowed the team more balance on the court. “We have a great defense and front row, even though it has taken a hit because a few players needed to take a break,” Hannah Rehak ’15 said. Additionally, Sam Bongiorno ’17 and Ari Hesterberg ’16, two setters who previously did not see as much game time, have filled in for Kasey McMaster ’16, who is absent this season due to injury.
For the first time in five years, the team is truly shaping into Doman’s vision. This year, every player was personally recruited by Doman and have played for her their entire time at Mac. “The program is really becoming what our coaches want and they’re getting the type of girls they want,” Hunter said.
Doman has been working with the other coaching staff to build up the volleyball program here at Macalester by focusing on basic skills and technique at the onset of each season. “This preseason we were able to jump in and work more on reading the hitters and setters to get a step ahead of the play instead of emphasizing the basics,” she said. This year the Scots have focused on being “more proactive in play than reactive.”
These women are working on three developmental goals in pursuit of the MIAC playoffs. First is serving aggressively but accurately and making the crucial serves of the game like first serve, at game point and after time outs. Keeping the other team’s serve receive players out of system and keeping the ball on Macalester’s side are essential to winning matches. Second is keeping a positive hitting percentage by being smart on hits, making minimal errors and going for kills when possible. Finally, the Scots would like to be the first to score five points because that team usually wins the set and ultimately the match.
Maintaining energy even when losing is important for this squad. The team is also working on “having the confidence to make a good pass, set and hit to score a point and not let the other team go on service runs,” Cora Trout ’16 said.
Communication, a key to success in volleyball, is one of the team’s greatest strengths. “There’s very little ego involved with the girls here and there’s commitment to having a good time, working really hard and finding ways we can communicate even more and better. We take responsibility and hold each other accountable,” Rehak said.
Her coach concurred: “Whether playing or on the bench, everybody contributes and supports one another,” Doman said.
Hunter’s season highlight came in a match against Lake Forest College: “It was really close and challenging and even though there were some slumps where they were beating us by quite a bit, we were able to come back. That was a turnaround point for the team because up until that point we hadn’t come back like that this season.”
Looking ahead, the Scots eagerly await the Dig Pink event against Gustavus Adolphus College, which is also senior night for the Macalester women, on Oct. 10. The Dig Pink event raises funds for and awareness of breast cancer. Testing themselves against nationally ranked Augsburg College on Nov. 1 is another potential highlight of the season.
As the season continues and moves into more conference play, the team is excited and ready to work hard everyday. A special technique the Scots have to prepare for practices and matches is ‘a mental minute.’ “It’s a way to get rid of all the baggage and stress from the day and focus on volleyball,” Trout said.
Doman sees Hunter and Trout as players to watch due to their consistency on the court and contributions to the teams successes so far. “Cora has been our strongest defensive specialist and if you look at Brooke, coming back from last year, she’s been one of our go-to hitters,” she said.
The Scots know what they must do to rise above their current .500 record. “We want to be a winning team. We have a lot of natural talent and natural athleticism, but we need to change our mentality and focus on having the confidence of being an athlete, taking pride in that, and trying to limit injury so we can be as physically and mentally in shape as possible,” Rehak said.