Any coach will tell you that the most important players on a team show balance, consistency, and dedication; individual accolades come with practice and teamwork. That's why Rebecca Schutte's nomination to the all-conference second team was only a consolation prize for a team that struggled this weekend at the UAA Championships in Cleveland. The Maroons went 1-3 in two days of pool and tournament play to close out their season at 9-24.
"We had a limited squad," said head coach Dorinda Von Tersch. "Not everyone was able to travel, but overall I think things went really well." Von Tersch said that the team did not win as much as she had hoped it would, but she thinks the future is bright.
Schutte's individual performances have already put her in the record books after only two years of collegiate competitionher 451 kills this season shattered the previous mark of 424and more records will almost certainly fall before her University of Chicago career is over (Schutte is just 303 kills shy of the record for most in a four-year campaign, with two years still ahead of her). But Schutte, Von Tersch, and the rest of the volleyball team know that it will take more than personal successes to turn this team into the contender it can be.
"The difference between winning and losing was not necessarily skill level, it was mental concentration," said Von Tersch. "The team won when everybody was on the same page, communicating."
With the leadership of Schutte, as well as that of fourth-years Cara Nelson and Jeannie Kim, the team has led its talented group of first-years to a new level. Nelson's poise in changing positions at the season's final tournament won praise from teammates and coach alike.
"I was really pleased, but not surprised," Von Tersch said. "Cara really stepped up for us."
Nelson recorded four kills in just five attempts while playing middle instead of right side, her normal position, against the University of Rochester on Saturday.
Von Tersch believes that the team's young nucleusSchutte, along with first-years Emma Hamilton, Tracie Kenyon, Katie Meinhover, and Erica Pettkeis strong enough to become competitive next season.
"Our young players are experienced winners. They come from some of the strongest high school programs in the country. They've never lost beforethat's the motivating factor," Von Tersch said.
The players have shown maturation already. Kenyon, the team's defensive specialist, broke the school records for both digs in a match (35) and digs in a season (523). In both cases, Kenyon obliterated the previous mark: the old records were 28 and 399, respectively.
Meinhover has been equally impressive. "She is a player that I am anxious to see where she goes. She really challenged her knowledge of the game," Von Tersch said. "I expect a lot. I think she's going to be a standout for us next year."
All the same, the events of this season were disappointing at times.
"I expected more wins," Von Tersch admitted, "But everybody was better. I think this is the strongest the conference has been in a long time."
Chicago also got the short ends of a few sticks, between bringing a depleted roster to Cleveland and going 2-4 in five-game matches.
"The losses we had were really, really close," Von Tersch said. "There were only a few blowouts."
Before it can start counting up next year's wins, the team needs to do a good deal of work during the offseason. They will be doing just that for eight monthstheir lifting program starts next Monday, only eight days after the season's end. Von Tersch stressed the importance of both the lifting program and the non-traditional season that the team will be playing during the winter.
"The big focus in the offseason will be consistency," she said.
Von Tersch expects the players to improve their balance and their strength during the offseason, but she also intends to bolster those efforts with a good recruiting program.
"Recruiting is key," she said. "I need to bring in some strong middles. Emma's been great, but Jeannie Kim is graduating." Von Tersch will need to add depth both at middle and other positions. As she points out, "We have no junior class."
With all these and other machinations going on between seasons, Von Tersch thinks the team can improve on some of the disappointments of this past year.
Good chemistry and hard work should pay off come next fall, according to Von Tersch.
"The players know now we're right on the bubble," she said. "With training and conditioning, we can get over the hump."