Volleyball sets itself up for a successful season with home opener win

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Occidental College’s Women’s Volleyball team practicing in Rush Gym at Occidental College in Los Angeles on Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018. Molly Kauffman/The Occidental

Occidental’s women’s volleyball team (3–3) defeated University of St. Katherine in their home opener 3–0, Sept. 8 in Rush Gymnasium. The Tigers followed this up with another 3–0 home victory over West Coast Baptist College Sept. 11, before a 3–1 conference loss to Whittier College Sept. 15.

The volleyball program saw great turnover this offseason after losing five seniors at the end of last season. Co-captain Hannah Wagner (senior) explained how she feels the team has managed to deal well with the loss of this group.

“We lost five really great seniors that were a huge part of our team last year, but I think this year we are equally as strong, if not stronger,” Wagner said via email. “We have some really talented freshman that are bringing a lot of action to the court, and all of the returners have really put in a lot of work over the summer.”

The team saw six first years join the roster for this season, but according to Wagner, thanks to a productive preseason, the new team was able to form as a unit very quickly.

“Our preseason was super high energy, I think everyone was really excited to come back,” Wagner said via email. “We’ve done a lot of team bonding and our team is really clicking this year, which definitely helps us play well together.”

Co-captain Allie Sundara (senior) added that the new first years have really helped the team by providing depth at different positions.

“It’s really awesome to get so many different types of people on the court, and everyone plays at such a high level so we always get to incorporate everyone,” Sundara said.

The team began their season at the Pacific Coast Classic Aug. 31 and Sept.1, which saw them take on schools from across the country in the form of Union College, Johnson & Wales University, Southwestern University and Franklin & Marshall College. The team finished the tournament with a 1–3 record (with their win coming over Franklin & Marshall) heading into the team’s home opener against St. Katherine.

The Tigers swept St. Katherine in three games, 25–15, 25–22, 25–16, with Wagner leading all players with 11 kills. After winning the first game, the Tigers overcame a 9–6 deficit to snatch the second game after being tied at 21–21 and then finished off the match by winning game three.

Sabrina Degnan (senior), also a co-captain on the team, said the program did well to turn in such a strong performance in their home opener.

“First games are always a little rough because you’re getting the bugs out,” Degnan said. “I think we did a really good job of having good communication and closing the games, which has been a problem for us in the past.”

Sundara also commented on just how strong a performance the Tigers put together in their home opener.

“We played at a really high level and we just maintained that level throughout the entire match,” Sundara said.

As the team now looks forward to the rest of the season, the captains agreed that reaching the playoffs this year was a real possibility for the team.

“We’ve always been one spot out every year, but I think that we have a good chance this year to make it,” Degnan said.

Sundara pointed out that one reason the team has had such a positive start to the season is due to encouragement and advice from a motivational speaker and a sports psychiatrist prior to the season. Sundara said that the duo, comprised of cognitive science specialist Dr. Varoojan Mirzayan and motivational speaker Crista Samaras, have encouraged the team to focus primarily on enjoying themselves out on the court. She is hopeful this will translate into achieving the results they want over the course of the season.

“Our ultimate goal is to just put ourselves out there and have as much fun as we can, and the win will be the added bonus on top of that,” Sundara said.

The team is led by head coach Heather Collins, who is now in her eighth year in charge of the women’s volleyball team. Degnan emphasized just how lucky the team is to have her and her staff at the helm.

“I think it’s also important to acknowledge and thank the coaches because they do put in a lot of work and effort for our team,” Degnan said.