Leaving last year’s disappointing season behind, volleyball begins this Friday at 7 p.m. against Worcester State University. The team finished last year 5-15 with a 1-9 record in NESCAC, but is expected to improve as second-year Head Coach Ben Somera brings in his first class of recruits. He did not have the chance to recruit players before last season, because he had not come on until July of last year.
“We have added 10 new athletes to the program and I am excited about their potential,” Somera said. “Together with our returners, the newcomers give us a training environment that is much more competitive than last year.”
Captain Rachel Savage ’17 reiterated the value of this internal competition.
“I’m really excited about the season,” she said. “We have a strong group of returners and some really bright new players, and are off to a really strong and competitive start in practices.”
This competition can be expected to spur the best in all the squad’s players as the team prepares for Friday. Somera became the head coach after veteran Gale Lackey left her 30-year tenure at the helm of the squad. Somera brought with him a new energy and excitement that will hopefully manifest on the court this season. The recruit potential excites the returning players who are ready to move past last year’s slump.
“We have great new additions that will contribute to the team,” Emma Robin ’19 said. “We are looking forward to seeing the team progress throughout the season. He did a great job finding players to fit with the team.”
Fortunately, the team retained many of its players from last year.
“We graduated one senior who played a utility role for us, but the bulk of our starters are back from last year,” said Somera.
That senior was Abby Southam.
Savage, along with her fellow captain Heidi Westerman ’17 and other more experienced players, are helping to guide the team’s newer members.
“Rachel is a really great leader of the team on and off the court,” Robin said.
Somera’s style emphasizes the team as a unit and the necessity of each player, which is why the training of new talent is so critical.
“I feel very strongly that we can add the incremental improvements of each player into a system that will make our team a competitive unit, ” Somera said.
Somera believes the nascent recruits coupled with the experienced skill of the returning players has the promise to restore Wesleyan as a competitive player in NESCAC volleyball.
“I would have never come to Wesleyan if I didn’t think we could win Little Three and NESCAC Championship,” he said.
However, the Little Three competition may be a bit tougher. Williams and Amherst had strong seasons last year, finishing 18-11 and 23-5, respectively. Wesleyan has finished 0-3 against both teams for two years straight. It has been a long time since Wesleyan had any strong showing in the Little Three. The three teams tied in 2008 and 2009, but the Cards have not gotten the best of the rivalry since 1992. Somera, though, remains undaunted.
“I believe we can be competitive this season against Amherst and Williams,” he said.
Somera hopes to end the team’s doldrum by taking advantage of its greater size.
“Our personnel and depth give us an opportunity to play a little different style this season,” Somera said. “Last season, I felt like we had to be a little more terminable at the net, but our returning players really worked hard on developing their ball handling skills, and we can be a little more strategic and finesse a few more advantages for our team during rallies.”
Showing this improvement will be key this season as finishing points can be a large breaking point in the development of a team. If the squad can really start to control its finishes and rack up points, it could very well see a dramatic performance increase from last season.
Ultimately, this year’s team is one with the potential for a breakout success and could finally challenge the league’s longstanding titans, such as Williams and Tufts.
On Saturday, the team will play a doubleheader at home against Western Connecticut State at 11 a.m., and then Mitchell College at 1 p.m. These early matches will be key in setting up the team’s new dynamic to prepare for conference matches later this season.
Their first conference matches will be two home matches against Hamilton on Sept. 16 and then Middlebury on Sept. 17.