Youngsters look to continue upward trend

After finishing sixth at the UAA tournament last season, Chicago made it a focus to finish in the top four of the conference, which is among the nation’s most competitive.

By Jake Grubman

Volleyball entered last season with a 25–78 record over the previous three seasons. The team was tired of losing.

Featuring nine first-years and a new coach, that 2008 team started the year 15–6, establishing Chicago as an up-and-coming player in UAA competition.

“The team is on a mission to keep this program moving in the positive direction,” head coach Vanessa Walby said. “They worked hard last year and even harder in the offseason so that we are prepared to bring a better confidence and drive towards every match.”

It wasn’t all roses for Chicago, which squeezed out a winning, 19–17 record after going 4–11 during the final month of the season. Even with a roster that features just two upperclassmen this year, the Maroons are confident that they have the right tools to perform well for the whole season.

“I think one of the things we need to work on this year is being consistent throughout,” second-year outside hitter Isis Smalls said. “I know a lot of that can probably be attributed to the fact that we were such a young team, but we have matured so much over the spring season and over the summer that I think we’ll be peaking at the right time this year, which is hopefully at conference.”

After finishing sixth at the UAA tournament last season, Chicago has made it a focus to finish in the top half of the conference this year. Still, Walby said the team has to make strides this year to jump into the top four of one of the country’s best conferences. Both of the last two national champions have come from the UAA, with Emory winning in 2008 and Wash U winning in 2007. Those teams are ranked first and fifth this season, respectively.

“The UAA will still be extremely tough,” Walby said.

With goals of becoming a national contender in the near future, the team is focusing on fundamentals and discipline this season, although Smalls said it’s the team’s competitive nature that drove them to success last season.

“I think they’re all very competitive, not only against other teams, but against each other as well,” she said. “We’re very much about team effort and teamwork, but we’re competitive with each other and we keep pushing one another.”

Fourth-year outside hitter Diandra Bucciarelli is the team’s lone fourth-year, and the only third-year is outside-hitter Elizabeth Kossnar. Helping to fill the void of graduated fourth-years Kerry Dornfeld, Nikki Boddicker, and Katie Volzer will be a class of three first-years, who Walby said will bolster the team’s defense—not to mention the “spunk” that new libero Sam Brown brings to the floor.

To prepare for the difficult conference schedule, Chicago has games against several tough opponents, like 20th-ranked UW-Eau Claire on September 26. The team is hoping that harder competition will mean better experience for the still inexperienced group, eventually leading to improvement for the future.

“I think we all know that if we keep growing at the rate that we’re growing, especially having so many people in one class that are so strong, I believe that we definitely can be competitive, even to be in the top nationally,” Smalls said. “To do so well so young is just very exciting.”