As ardent emotions run rampant and lofty expectations are set, this year’s volleyball team has even more motivation to fight this season, as Head Coach Gale Lackey will be working her 37th and final season in the Cardinals’ athletic department.
Coach Lackey’s list of accolades is a long one, and includes a 2000 ECAC North Region Division III championship, a 2001 NESCAC Coach of the Year Award, and 477 career wins and counting. Lackey, a member of the Wesleyan Hall of Fame, is also an associate athletic director, was the coach of the undefeated 1980 field hockey team, and has served as the women’s lacrosse head coach.
“Gale has been a great coach for me these past few years and I am very glad I get to finish out my Wesleyan career with her,” said Captain Claire Larson ’15. “One of her biggest strengths is her passion; she has always had an intense love for the game and that really shows through her dedication to the team and her tireless work. My hope is that our team can give her one final great season, and achieve our goals to leave her on a high note.”
The Cards hope one last impressive season will include a playoff qualification, something that the Redbirds have not achieved since 2010. The team barely missed out on making the tournament in 2013, but was hindered by five-set losses to both Colby and Bates.
“We fully expect to make the playoffs this year,” Larson said. “It has been a central goal and something we have discussed all through pre-season.”
The team will have to overcome the departure of three seniors, including Kim Farris ’14, a four-year starter who earned a spot on last season’s all-NESCAC second team after leading the Cardinals in aces and kills. The trio, including Farris, Kate Centofanti ’14, and Monica Leslie ’14 averaged 78 percent of the Cardinals’ kills last year. Even with the losses, Larson believes that she and her team-leading 617 assists in 2013 can dig the squad out of their playoff drought.
“I will still approach the game the same way I always have and continue to work hard and lead the team to the best of my ability,” Larson said. “Losing the three seniors last year was a big hit to our offense, but we have players who have been waiting and practicing for this opportunity as well as new freshman talent.”
Returning players will be asked to make a larger contribution, such as starting hitters Abby Southam ’16 and Sara Warnock ’15, as well as starting libero Rachel Savage ’17, who led the team with 308 digs last season. Along with these three, another seven letterwinners return to the court to aid the Cardinals. Defensive specialists Brittany Lo ’15 and Natalie Wildenradt ’15 will be back, along with Jen Farris ’16, Naja Lewis ’17, Brittany Curran ’16, Ariel Kaluzhny ’16, Heidi Westerman ’17, and Captain Emily Shames ’15.
Among those vying for some extra playing time are five first-year players hoping to strengthen the lineup, most of which are at or above six feet tall.
“We have a great first-year class,” Larson said. “We have five new players each with the ability to impact the team. Four of them are hitters and of those four, they are all over 5’11”, which will help add to our offense and our blocking.”
Indeed, the Birds must improve on offense in order to make a jump in the standings, as they were ninth in the conference in assists and tenth in the conference in kills last season. They were also last in the conference in digs, trailing the next best team by over 200. Larson expects the offense to have more of an influence on the matches this season.
“Having hitters that are able to make many different shots and from different positions should help our offense,” Larson said. “We have many hitters who can make strong hits from different positions, which should help keep the other team off balance and guessing.”
The Cardinals conference schedule begins on Friday, Sept. 19 when Williams travels to Middletown for an 8 p.m. match. The Ephs are the reigning conference championships, after also finishing first in the conference regular season.
“Playing Williams right away will be a challenge…They were a very freshman-heavy team last year and didn’t graduate many seniors, whereas we graduated a huge part of our offense,” Larson said. “We should have an advantage knowing more about their players than they do about ours. Amherst will also be a challenge, but they didn’t have any seniors last year, so again we will know a big portion of their team.”
The team will begin its season against Emmanuel College, Brandeis University, and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy at the Brandeis Invitational before heading off to face a number of opponents at the Wes Quad Match.