Volleyball team searches for balance in tournament


Andrew Walker

Guilford College Volleyball Head Coach Emily Gann talks to her players at the start of practice in the Ragan-Brown Fieldhouse in Greensboro, North Carolina on Aug. 31, 2017.// Photos By Andrew Walker/ The Guilfordian

Volleyball team searches for balance going into conference tournament

The Guilford volleyball team’s 2017 season has been analogous to the game, as they have volleyed themselves back and forth between the win and loss column this year. With only two games remaining in the regular season, the Quakers look for consistency before competing in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference Tournament.

Guilford opened the season on Sept. 1 with a 3-1 victory over Roanoke College to kick off a three-game winning streak at the Averett Cougar Classic, hosted by Averett University. Guilford suffered their first loss to the host Cougars, who currently hold a 24-2 record and rank third in the latest NCAA Regional Rankings. Four days later, the Quakers fell again to Methodist University in five sets.

However, the team responded quickly, garnering victories in their first home games of the season over John Wesley University and Pfeiffer University in a double-header Saturday, Sept. 9. They followed this with a win on the road in their conference opener versus Lynchburg College, giving them a third straight win and their second three-game streak of the season.

“Our non-conference games, I think, have shown us a lot as players individually and as a whole,” said sophomore outside hitter and defensive specialist Christian Ritter. “Not only us, but (head coach Emily Gann) as well.”

Ritter is second on the team in digs (268) and digs per set (3.67) as of Oct. 23. She also ranks second on the team in service aces (32).

The Quakers’ streak ended at the hands of Washington & Lee University, who is second in the league currently. This fluctuation of winning and losing streaks brings up questions about the consistency of the team represented by their sixth place standing in the ODAC.

A strong point for the Quakers have been their ability to score when it counts. They rank fourth in the conference with 15.3 points per set. Although upperclassmen players have set a solid tone for team, the strength of younger players has contributed largely to Guilford’s success.

First-year defensive specialist McKinley Durham has made her mark early on the Quakers. She leads the team with 275 digs and 3.77 digs per set. She also has 29 service aces and 0.40 service aces per set.

“The transition from high school to collegiate volleyball was kind of difficult because the pace of play was so much faster,” said Durham. “It’s just something you have to get used to. Throughout this season, I’ve learned how to keep up with the speed of the game.

Durham also spoke to the chemistry of the team.

“I’ve learned to talk to my hitters more to make their hits more efficient if I see an open spot on the other side of the court. (The upperclassmen) have helped me by treating me the same on and off the court. They don’t treat me as if I am a (first-year), but that we are all the same. They’re all super supportive and give me good feedback.”

The team had a tough stretch late in the season, losing three straight games against three very strong programs: Salem College, Randolph-Macon College and Virginia Wesleyan University. Randolph-Macon and Virginia Wesleyan are both top teams in the ODAC.

Guilford concluded the season with matchups against Emory & Henry College and Hollins University, the two worst teams in the conference.

“(These games) are very important,” said Ritter. “Growing up, I was taught to never take any team lightly and never play down to their level. Taking a team lightly will always give you the results you do not want.

“Coach Gann, I would say, holds the same philosophy. Against weaker teams, she always says to not take them lightly and use those games to make yourself a better player.”

Minus these opponents, however, the Quakers have had to battle a difficult schedule. Taking games one by one and focusing on each opponent allowed the team to earn their victories and learn from their struggles. This analysis will be vital for Guilford as they move forward to the ODAC Tournament.

“Conference and non-conference games have pushed all of us pretty hard,” said Ritter.

The quarterfinal matches of the ODAC Tournament begin Wednesday, Nov. 1.