With seven wins and only one loss in the Liberty League so far, the Vassar women’s volleyball team has had a monumentally successful season so far. While the season began with a string of losses against competitive opponents in Seattle, WA, the testing matches prepared the team for league play. The Brewers have an especially young team this season, with an incoming class of six freshmen and four sophomores. But with the mentorship and experience of returning players, Vassar is continuing to advance its skill set and find success in matches.
Each member of the freshman class has proven instrumental to the team’s victories. Sophomore captain Annie MacMillan attested to this, claiming, “All of our freshmen have stepped in to fill critical roles on this team this season. Every member of our program has a large role, whether it is from the court or the bench. Our six rookies make us better in practice day in and day out, which in turn makes us better in games.”
The Brewers’ other captain, senior libero Sierra Tobin, seconded the important role the freshmen have been taking on in practices and each of their varying skills. “The whole class has been very engaged in practices and classroom sessions this year, bringing new perspectives, energy and excitement to everything we’re doing,” Tobin noted. “This engagement has really helped our game because we can trust all six of them to step into whatever role we need them in and they have been stepping up both on the bench and on the court.”
Freshman hitter Jane McLeod has undoubtedly stood out, earning four consecutive Liberty League Rookie of the Week titles. She has played in all of the 22 matches and leads the team with 264 kills, averaging 3.62 per set played. McLeod ranks second in the Liberty League for kills for average number of kills per set, and fourth for hitting percentage.
Though met with expected differences in the transition from high school volleyball to college volleyball, McLeod relayed that she and the other members of her grade were able to adapt to the team’s new dynamic quickly. “This team definitely has a different style of playing than most of us were used to before coming to Vassar,” related McLeod. “Over the past month, however, we’ve really adjusted and have gotten into the swing of the team. All the returning players were extremely patient and helpful throughout the transition. Now, it feels like I’ve been playing with the team forever.”
Colette Cambey, another freshman hitter, has also significantly impacted the Brewers in her first year. She ranks fourth on the team for number of blocks, contributing largely to the team’s defensive efforts. Returning sophomore hitter Devan Gallagher praised Cambey, saying, “She has really stepped up for us in some very tough, close matches. By setting up blocks and bringing her masses of energy and excitement to the court, she has really helped our team’s play improve.”
Gallagher acknowledges that all of the other freshmen, similarly to Cambey, have found their places on the team with the help of the upperclassmen. “The whole team has worked hard to make sure that each of our newcomers find a role in which they are maximizing their skills, as well as the performance of the team,” she explained. “They make up a pretty large recruiting class, and although that means we have a young team, it has served us well because we are all constantly working off of each other.”
Despite the Brewers’ current winning league record, the season started with four tough losses in Seattle. The team lost to the University of Puget Sound, Pacific Lutheran University, Southwestern University and Carthage College. Though the team was disappointed with the losses, they all recognize the importance of these games and how the high competition helped propel them forward into the season.
“Since these first games of the season were against top 25 teams, we were really able to challenge ourselves and see the level of play we are capable of,” Gallagher articulated. “We came into the Liberty League games with a high level of confidence because these first games showed us how well we could perform and what we are capable of as a team.”
Tobin, agreeing with how the competition helped drive the Brewers into their League games, said, “Seattle definitely prepared us for the season by starting us off with a high level of play right off the bat. The games we had were extremely competitive and we had to adjust quickly to play at game speed. ”
Vassar competed twice on both Friday and Saturday, giving them Sunday to explore Seattle together as a team. “It was a great trip for us to bond and get to know each other outside of volleyball as well,” commented Tobin. This extra bonding time allowed the time necessary for many of the players to connect with one another, especially the freshmen, and make connections off the court, which is something the team prioritized this year.
The Brewers have not only been winning conference games but have also been dominating the Liberty League leaderboards. They rank highest out of all league teams in hitting percentage, assists, kills and service aces. In limiting opponent hitting percentage, opponent assists and opponent kills, the team stands second. The players hope to continue controlling the game in these aspects while working to improve their weaknesses.
“We definitely want to continue maintaining our aggressive and versatile offense,” said McLeod. “We’ve been running a lot of different plays lately and have really been working our opponents’ blocks. We need to continue to focus on being disciplined on defense at all times, and being ready to move for the ball.”
Tobin lauded the team’s ability to maintain their style of play against teams that have significantly different styles. “We need to focus on always playing our game, and not letting the other team dictate our play. We’ve generally done a good job of this and we want to continue bringing our energy and intensity to each match,” she remarked.
Unlike most Vassar sports teams, the volleyball squad has the opportunity to play each Liberty League team twice. Gallagher, commenting on how the team plans to use this scheduling to their advantage, noted, “We had our first two Liberty League weekends fairly early in the season. Now we have a break from conference games and are using our non-conference matches as opportunities to push ourselves and improve our play. Since we play every team in the league twice, we are able to really focus on each of their weaknesses and figure out what aspects of our game need work in order to play even better against them the second time around.”
Showing this improvement from first to second match-ups against league teams, the Brewers recently defeated the Tigers of Rochester Institute of Technology 3-0 after falling to them 2-3 only six days earlier. Other triumphs over Liberty League competition include 3-1 defeats over St. Lawrence University and Clarkson University and 3-0 blow-outs over Bard College, Skidmore College and Union College.
Even in non-conference play, the Brewers are still showing dominance. Last weekend Vassar defeated Wellesley College 3-1 on Oct. 8. Gallagher had 17 kills and MacMillan also contributed with 40 assists.
Looking forward, the women are hoping to continue their winning streak against competition both in and out of league. The results of the upcoming games will help determine the Brewers’ spot in playoffs and the possibility of Vassar hosting those high-stake matches. “The final regular-season Liberty League weekend is coming up in two weekends. The tournament is crucial because it will determine the standings and the host of the Liberty League Tournament. During those four big matches, we will look to play each team better than the previous time we played them, while focusing on getting better each time we take the court,” expressed Tobin.
Like Tobin, MacMillan recognizes the weight of these games. “Our season goal of making it to the NCAA tournament will require two big victories in November,” McMillan continued. “Our intensity, determination, leadership and confidence have got us to where we are today and we will rely heavily on those four things to propel us further. We know we are at the top of the league, we just need to continue to prove it.”
The Brewers will look to take home their next pair of wins in Schenectady, NY on Friday, Oct. 21, where they will work to beat Union College at 4:00 pm followed by Saint Lawrence at 6 p.m.