The volleyball program underwent a major change this season, as former Roger Williams head coach Ben Somera took the reigns for the Cards after Gale Lackey stepped down last year, following a 29-year run at the helm of the team.
Already quite accomplished, Somera boasted a 75-21 record as the Hawks head coach, as well as three conference championships. He takes over a Wesleyan squad that looks to improve on last season’s mark of 13-10 (3-7 NESCAC).
“Our goal is to get better each time we compete,” Somera said. “We’re not setting goals in terms of how many wins we earn. It’s more about how we compete each game, each set, each match. Our objectives are a little more about how we play on our side of the net, regardless of the result.”
From a results standpoint, the Cardinals certainly seem to be living up to expectations. Their first match was a convincing three-set romp over the University of St. Joseph, winning the sets 25-15, 25-15, and 25-21, respectively. Sarah Swenson ’18 and Caroline Diemer ’18 shone on attack, with 12 kills credited to Swenson and 11 to Diemer, each earning more than any of their teammates or any member of the Blue Jays.
Defensively, Madeleine Lundberg ’19, who impressed in all facets of the game in her collegiate debut, aided standout libero Rachel Savage ’17. The pair combined for 23 digs, which accounted for over half of the team total. The Cards cruised to victory in each of the first two sets, rarely ever relinquishing their leads. Only the third set caused any nerves for Somera, as his team fell behind 19-18 late in the set. However, the situation was quickly rectified, as Wesleyan won the next four points and quickly closed the match out.
“The whole team came out with a lot of energy and determination,” Swenson said. “We easily made adjustments.”
On Saturday, the team played a tri-match against Worcester State University and Rhode Island College. The first of these contests, against the Lancers from Massachusetts, saw the Cards come out of the gate slowly, dropping the first set 25-20. But they quickly flipped the script and cruised to victory in each of the following sets, winning 25-16, 25-16, and 25-15.
Heidi Westerman ’17 was outstanding at facilitating her teammates, recording an impressive 40 assists. Swenson and Savage again played excellent volleyball, and Abby Southam ’16 was efficient both offensively and defensively.
The Cards found themselves in an early hole in their afternoon match against RIC. A very back-and-forth first set saw the Cards fall 27-25 in extra play. The second set was a similar story, with the Anchorwomen coming out on top 26-24. The momentum shifted in the third set, as stifling defense by the Redbirds held RIC hitters to just 4 kills. However, the away side righted the ship in the fourth and ultimately final set, winning 25-16 to secure a 3-1 victory.
Highlights for Somera included five blocks from Sarah Small ’18, and collegiate debuts from Kelsey Tam ’19 and Emma Robin ’19, who each made nice contributions in the losing effort.
“I think we are off to a great start,” Southam said. “We had a minor setback against Rhode Island College, which was disappointing.”
Despite this relatively strong on-paper beginning of the season, Somera was slightly lukewarm on his team’s performance. He maintained that the Cards still had improvements to make, particularly in regards to sloppiness in their play.
“It’s been a little up and down,” Somera said. “I would like to see us executing routine freeball plays a little bit better, and maybe missing a few less serves, but for the most part, we’re doing okay.”
Hitter Naja Lewis ’17 agreed that the team has yet to play its best volleyball, and was optimistic about the improvements season is sure to hold.
“We’re very happy with where we’re going,” she said. “We’re also just very happy with the strides we know we’re going to make. I think the most exciting part about it is that we see that we’re growing every day.”
Next up for the Cards will be a home match against in-state rival Eastern Connecticut State College, followed by a road trip to Maine where the team will begin its NESCAC campaign against Bates and Colby. Wesleyan will hope to come out of the weekend matching its 5-1 beginning to 2014, and should be in decent shape to do so, as they beat all three teams last season.