Despite a forced transition to the entirely new play style of first-year Head Coach Ben Somera, Sarah Swenson ’18 has taken her game to a whole new level this season. After earning big playing time as a first-year last season by virtue of her strong offensive performances, Swenson has exploded in the early goings to lead Wesleyan hitters in just about every metric. While her demeanor is generally mild, it becomes clear to every spectator as soon as she gets on the court that she leads by example through her intensity and high level of play. While volleyball has struggled this season at times, the top hitter’s play has remained rock solid. Despite this, Swenson’s prowess on the court remains one of campus’ best kept secrets. In order to find out more, The Argus sat down with Swenson to discuss volleyball, ice cream, and Netflix.
The Argus: First, we’d like to know what you’re like off the court. What are you passionate about in the classroom?
Sarah Swenson: I’d say since fifth grade, I’ve always been really into science. I think the medical field is super interesting, so everything I take here really has to do with science. Right now I’m also taking sign language, but that translates to working in a hospital. So everything I do revolves around my love for that.
A: When you aren’t playing or studying, how do you like to spend your time?
SS: I think I spend most of my time playing volleyball or studying, but I also do track here, so I like to run. I really like being outside, hiking and stuff, even though volleyball season is kind of when you can hike. But over the summer, I really like to do that stuff. My sister really got me into it. Other than that, I don’t really have time for much besides Netflix.
A: Is there anything that we would be surprised to learn about you, or is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
SS: I’ve done a lot of traveling; I’ve gone to nine countries outside of the U.S., I’ve broken my finger three times, I danced for 12 years. Sorry, I’m not super interesting. Oh, I can eat any amount of ice cream given to me. I’d say it’s a special skill. Literally any amount.
A: Switching over to volleyball, can you give us a sense of how your season has been going so far, as a team?
SS: It’s a really big transition year. We’re definitely improving, but with a new coach, you change everything about your practice and the way you play. So I think we’re definitely getting better, but it’s really hard to transition and just be great right away. I think it’s one of those years where you just figure everything out, and then maybe the next year everything sets into place. I kind of feel like that’s the way it’s going, and even though we’re improving, it’s not necessarily showing in our games.
A: What about you? Are you satisfied with your own play?
SS: I’d say yes. I think last year I was super frustrated because when I came here I felt like I was stuck at the same level of play. I was never really improving, and at times I kind of felt like I was getting worse. But this year with all the advice [Coach Somera] is giving us, I feel like I’m slowly getting better.
A: You’ve played every set so far this season, and lead the team in kills by a landslide. Would you say that your play gives you more leadership on the court? What about in the locker room?
SS: Personally, I tend to be someone that isn’t very vocal when I play; I really tend to stay inside my head. So even if I get a great kill or something, my facial expression tends to stay the same. So even in high school, I was a leader more by action than by words, and that’s something I like. When I speak to people, I think it doesn’t come off as motivational as other people. Rachel [Savage ’17] and Abby [Southam ’16], who are team captains, they do a great job of it, and I think they speak the most. For me, I’d much rather be someone who motivates people by diving to get a ball, showing that I’m there to work hard and play hard and that they should be too.
A: When did you first start playing volleyball, and how did you get your start?
SS: I didn’t start until my freshman year of high school, because I’m from the East Coast and generally people don’t really get to start before then. My sister did it at the end of high school, and it just looked really fun. I had tried all the other fall sports: Cross country, I hated; soccer, I was really bad at; and I was someone who wanted to do a sport year-round. So I kind of just started it, and I was tall, which helped, and I was athletic, which helped. It kind of just fell into place.
A: What is it that you love so much about the sport?
SS: It’s one of those sports, especially compared to track, that is just so much fun because you aren’t in pain all the time. I like that it’s difficult because it depends on the whole team atmosphere. I know I’m comparing this a lot to track, but track can be very individual. You run, you want to win, nobody else can make you or change that it’s pretty much up to you. With volleyball, everybody has to be at the same level and we all have to work together; You could have the most talented people on your team, but if they have awful team chemistry your team will be so bad. You just have to be so close and work so well with everyone, which I do think is something that we do so much better this year.
A: Take this space to give a shout-out to someone who deserves it, whether they are on the volleyball team or not. Who do you think deserves praise?
SS: I think pretty easily that goes to Rachel Savage ’17. I think even when she was a sophomore last year and I came in, I was just like, ‘Wow, this girl is crazy.’ She’s such a great role model to have on the court. She’s even my Chemistry TA so I just follow her around in every aspect. If you watch her on the court, she just throws herself everywhere. She’ll be so sick. I think she broke her finger, too, and she just dives everywhere. That kind of determination, to do that all the time, is just so admirable. She gets some credit, but I never think she gets as much credit as she deserves because she always puts in one hundred percent no matter what. I love having her on the team and it’s so crazy to me that even as a sophomore last year, she was just so obviously the leader. I really like watching her in practices, because it’s like, ‘Oh my God, of course she got that up.’
A: If you had to give one piece of advice to all the other athletes on campus, what would it be?
SS: Something I really value is just spending as much time with your team as possible. A lot of the times people seem to think you shouldn’t be spending all your time with your team. But I think it’s important as an athlete that you have this group of people that you’re first off forced to play with, and even if you don’t like them, you learn to. You’re this group where you have one thing in common, and what’s nice about Wesleyan is that besides volleyball everyone else is in to so many different things. For me, I think that kind of team environment is something to really take advantage of while you’re here. When we’re gone from here, you won’t get that. So for me, I try to spend as much time with those people as I can in season, and enjoy it.
A: Last few questions, and the most important ones. Usdan or Summies? SciLi or Olin? Wesleyan or Trinity?
SS: O.K., well, Wesleyan over Trinity, SciLi over Olin, and I go to Usdan a lot more than Summies.