The women’s volleyball team is off to a solid start this year, achieving a hard-fought record of 14-8 despite a new coach and only four returning upperclassmen. Impressively, the team is achieving this record with fourteen players who had never before played a game of collegiate volleyball. “[This] season has been a year of learning and adjusting,” said fourth-year Temilade Adekoya.
The team competes in the University Athletic Association (UAA) conference, which may be considered the toughest DIII conference in the nation. It pits UChicago against schools such as Emory and NYU; no game is an easy feat. Of the eight teams in the conference, four schools have been ranked in the national Top 25, including the Maroons, who currently sit at No. 22.
A grounding force on the UChicago volleyball team throughout this season has been third-year middle blocker Ellie Alden. She is a tremendous offensive and defensive presence for the team, averaging a .356 hitting percentage this season. In 2019, she recorded the fifth-best season by hitting percentage in school history.
On September 7, Alden was named UAA Athlete of the Week after she played a vital role in the shutdown of No. 18-ranked College of Saint Benedict. That week, she averaged an impressive .410 hitting percentage and 2.55 kills per set. She also made an impact defensively with 1.09 blocks per set.
Alden went on to win UAA Athlete of the Week again on September 13 and again on October 11. Adekoya said a big part of Alden’s game is her heart-over-height mentality. “She does not get phased by any size hitter considering she’s not the tallest middle in the game,” said Adekoya. “Alden embraces any challenge she’s faced with.”
In her own estimation, Alden was not a star player from day one and said as a first-year she merely “bee-bopped around” and had “little responsibility besides carrying the cooler around to away matches.” Her intense summers of lifting, playing in open gyms, and competing with the UCLA beach volleyball team (her sister is a member) are clearly paying off.
“It’s always a joy to see her run on the court with a vibrant smile on her face, whether we’re winning or losing,” Adekoya said when asked what it’s like to play with Alden. “Everyone should look to her as an example.”
Regardless of whether Alden was “bee-bopping” around as a first-year or winning UAA honors as a third-year, her love for the team has stayed consistent throughout her time at the university. Adekoya commented on how it’s evident that Alden “cherishes this team and how everyone feels so much.” “That empowers us and her to play to our best capabilities,” she added.
Alden has greatly valued her experience on the UChicago volleyball team. “Volleyball is fun, but it’s really the people that make this a super unique and special place… we have a lot of inside jokes, play a lot of pranks, and dance quite a bit!” she said.
Alden isn’t just an amazing volleyball player; she is also a valued teammate and friend. Adekoya described Alden as a “multifaceted player and person,” who is both a “silly [and] goofy part of the team” and someone who is “disciplined and absolutely loves to compete.”
Mallory Brodnik, a third-year on UChicago’s women’s basketball team, has been close friends with Alden since first year and said that Alden’s “sense of self and her confidence in who she is has grown immensely.” Brodnick added that Alden “has the biggest heart and smile! She is so caring and thoughtful, and always there whether I need a laugh or cry!”
The Maroons will continue to take their cues from Alden on and off the court, as the volleyball team tries to make a run at the UAA title—and after that, hopefully, the NCAA postseason.