c/o Steve McLaughlin

c/o Steve McLaughlin

Wesleyan volleyball is cruising to the top of the standings with its best start to a season since 1989. The team began the season on an 11-game win streak, including four wins against NESCAC opponents, and has solidified itself as a force to be reckoned with not only in the NESCAC but in all of Division III volleyball. 

Last season, the Cardinals were outstanding: They went 24–4 overall (9–1 NESCAC), which was the most wins for the team since 2001 and tied for the third most in program history. They also hosted the NESCAC Tournament as well as multiple regional NCAA Tournament matches, both of which were firsts for the Cards. 

Despite these historic accomplishments, the Red and Black entered the 2023 season with even higher ambitions, and with the start they are off to, they are more than capable of making these dreams a reality.

“We’ve been runner-ups two years in a row, and we figured third time’s the charm, let’s do it, let’s run our systems,” outside hitter Sophia Lindus ’26 said. “Let’s play our game, every single match, we can take care of routine balls, all that jazz that’s so important to just how a good team should operate. And we knew that we were so close last year, that with this great group of new freshmen coming in this great system that we’ve been running, we definitely have it in our reach.”

The team is ready to do whatever it takes this year to make a deep run into the postseason.

“The people who win [in DIII volleyball] are the ones who are willing to fight scrap and throw their body on the floor for every ball,” middle blocker KG Morton ’24 said. “A lot of grit. We’re talking about grit this year. Coach wants us to dig everything. Don’t let anything touch the floor without somebody touching it first, even when you swing in a ball, get a kill, or a point.”

The Cardinals got off to a hot start with four non-conference victories over University of Hartford (3–0), Baruch College (3–0), Emerson College (3–2), and Johnson & Wales University (3–1).

But the true first test of the season came with their Friday, Sept. 15 matchup in Medford, MA against No. 19 nationally ranked Tufts, who the Cards lost to in the finals of the NESCAC Tournament last season. 

“So on the day we traveled to Tufts, it was a day filled with jitters because we were so nervous to be playing this team,” Lindus said of the matchup. “And we knew that they were going to come out strong, but we were also going to come out strong and play our game and just cool it down a little bit on our side to stay in control.”

The Cardinals took an early lead in the first set with a three-point run by Morton, outside hitter Bella Ahearn ’23 MA ’24, and captain and OH/MB Mariko Tanaka ’24. The set was close throughout and the Jumbos were able to tie the Cards 19–19 late in the first set. The Red and Black then came back with a strong 6–2 run to win the set and gain much-needed momentum. 

The second set saw a rockier start with Tufts taking a 7–9 lead on the back of two service aces to reestablish their presence. From there the scoring went back and forth until the Cards used three straight points to capture the set 25–19. 

The third set saw the Jumbos put up their best effort yet as they led 10–14, and as late as 21–22, but this was a situation that Wes had been in before and could handle.

“We actually kind of have a tendency to go down in the first few points, and then claw our way back up,” Morton said. “Which is the best.”

That is exactly what the Cardinals did as they won four of the last five points to take the third and final set 25–23, getting revenge on the Jumbos and setting the tone for the entire first half of their season.

“[Tufts] also sort of has a different team from last year,” Morton said. “Graduated a few important players. I remember we walked in, and all of us thought it was gonna be a five set match, really long, really hard. So we just came ready to fight and they sort of went down easy.”

“I don’t think that a lot of us expected them to be kind of in the state that we were in just because they were figuring out a new lineup,” Lindus said. “I definitely know that they are a really good team, they will come back at some point either in the NESCAC championships or in the NCAA tournament. And it’s definitely going to be another really strong rematch.”

The Cards followed up this major victory with a clean sweep of Endicott College on Saturday, Sept. 16 and then faced their next NESCAC matchup at home on Wednesday, Sept. 20 versus Trinity.

The first set saw back-and-forth streaky scoring as the Cards catapulted themselves to a 16–12 lead off seven straight points, but steady play from the Bantams saw them leading 22–23. Wesleyan stormed back and, after two consecutive Trinity errors and a service ace by Morton, the set was sealed by the Cards. 

The next two sets were dominant for Wes with no one questioning who the better team was as the Red and Black cruised to a second conference victory.

c/o Steve McLaughlin

c/o Steve McLaughlin

The weekend of Friday, Sept. 22 and Saturday, Sept. 23 saw two more non-conference matchups against Susquehanna University and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and saw two more sweeps for the Cards as they steamrolled both teams in impressive fashion. Neither opponent led any of the sets past the score of 4–5 and, when all was said and done, the team was 9–0 on the season.

Then on Friday, Sept. 29, the Cards faced Colby, who they had recent history with.

“Colby was another team that I personally really wanted to have the team play really well against,” Lindus said. “Last year when we played them, we beat them in four sets, which is what we wanted to do. We want to beat them in straight sets. And then the second time we played them in the first round of NESCAC Championships, we also beat them in four sets on our home turf. We just weren’t doing our stuff.” 

The flawed performances from the 2022 season put extra pressure on this rematch for the Cards, and they delivered. They used an 8–0 run on kills by Lindus, MB Bianca Gonya ’25, and Tanaka as well as several Colby errors to gain and maintain a commanding lead in the first set which they never relinquished, taking the set 25–16.

The next set was more back and forth at first, but down the stretch the Cards were dominant, winning 10 of the last 11 points to take the set 25–13 and setting themselves up for the sweep that had evaded them the year before. 

The third set was the toughest with a Wesleyan 4–0 lead evaporating. Soon enough, the Red and Black found themselves down 18–22, but they were far from giving up. The Cards clawed their way back exactly as Morton said they were capable of, and they won the set 25–23 and secured a sweep over the Mules with kills from Morton herself, outside hitter Michelle Jorba ’25, and Ahearn.

The next day on Saturday, Sept. 30, the Cards took on Bates in what would be their most closely contested conference game yet. The first set was all Red and Black after a slow start, but in the second the Bobcats took a commanding 7–16 lead. The Cards fought back ferociously and led 25–24 one point away from winning the set, but Bates executed three straight kills to take the set 25–27.

Although the Cards came off that set and demolished the Bobcats 25–8 and 25–12 to win the match, the dropped set was the first and only of the year to a conference opponent and made the team question their conviction.

“Historically, we’ve beaten Bates almost every single time we played,” Lindus said on the shaky win. “And at this game, we definitely did not respect them as much as we should. And having the underdog mentality that they did, they were able to play with no fear, no pressure on them, which helps teams play and stay out of their minds.”

Regardless of a dropped set, the Cards were 11–0 overall and 4–0 in conference, the first time they have started the season with 11 straight wins since 1989.

On Sunday, Oct. 1, the Cards faced number 11 ranked New York University, and for the first time, suffered a loss in four sets.

“I think that was our first, very competitive team that was able to challenge us in ways that we haven’t gotten challenged so far,” setter Ali Landa ’26 said. “So that was kind of a necessary loss for this season because it’s gonna teach us what we need to just be [one of] the top teams in the nation.” 

Currently, the Cardinals are 11–1 and 4–0 against NESCAC teams as they prepare for a huge test this weekend: They will take on Little Three rivals Williams and Amherst on Friday, Oct. 6 and Saturday Oct. 7, respectively. 

“I’m hoping for pretty much every game we give our all,” Landa said. “Whether it’s the lowest-ranked team or whether it’s the highest-ranked team.” 

Despite the major implications for these matchups, the Cards are confident that they are ready for whatever challenge comes their way.

 

Erin Byerly can be reached at ebyerly@wesleyan.edu.

Ethan Lee can be reached at ejlee@wesleyan.edu

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