Volleyball displays potential for 2019

Guilford College’s volleyball team felt a déjà vu at the conclusion of their 2018 season as they fell at the hands of Washington and Lee University in consecutive seasons. The Generals topped the Quakers in the quarterfinals of the Old Dominion Athletic Conference tournament, 3-0 (25-14, 25-17, 25-17). The Quakers finished the year at 16-10, 7-5 in league play.

Guilford faced the Generals in their conference opener as well. The Quakers looked to go into ODAC play with a lot of momentum as they were 7-2 while on a four-game winning streak. They might have cooled down as a result of Hurricane Florence, however, which led to the cancellation of two home games.

This meant the Quakers’ last game before the conference opener was two weeks prior, and they fell to the Generals in five sets. Several players highlighted miscommunications as a source of the Quakers struggles in ODAC play.

“I think the biggest challenge for this year was connections,” said junior defensive specialist Christian Ritter. “We didn’t get to bond as much as we usually do because of timing and games, so I think that was our biggest struggle.”

Junior outside hitter Morgan Tompkins attested to the issues surrounding the team’s bond.

“As a team, off the court, I think we really just need to spend more time together,” Tompkins said. “We didn’t do much team bonding this year, so, while we were fairly close, there was still some depth missing there that I think hurt us some when things got hard.

“We’re definitely very family oriented, but I think at times we fell apart when we should have fallen together.”

Ritter went on to note the team had taken steps forward as the season progressed to address the struggles in team chemistry.

“Gratefully, with everyone being mature enough for constructive criticism, we were able to push through the minor setbacks,” Ritter said.

Ritter, along with junior setter Tina Eucker, both received All-ODAC recognition for consecutive seasons. Ritter was a third-team selection, while Eucker received second-team honors.

“My personal mindset going into next season is to redeem how we finished this past season,” Eucker said. “I’m unsatisfied with how we finished. Although we did a lot of good during the year, I think we had a lot of potential to finish the season out stronger than we did.”

Eucker believes the team should focus on making a stronger run in the regular season to earn a better-seeding in the playoffs.

“Going into next season, it’s a goal to host in the first round of the ODACs,” Eucker said. “I think finishing high during the regular season can give the team the confidence we need in order to execute in every aspect of the game. I believe that this will allow us to win ODACs.”

The team has the potential to return a lot of their talent next year as no player on the roster is graduating yet. The players pointed out aspects they want to focus on in the offseason. Tompkins believes the team should really push each other to be the best they can be this offseason.

“We’ve been talking about a championship for three years, and the seniors have one last chance, so I think getting everybody on the same page and willing to put in the work will get us there,” Tompkins said.

The team expressed that talent was never an issue. They demonstrated their potential with a big win on the road against Randolph-Macon College, the eventual regular season ODAC champions.

“My own personal favorite (memory) was getting the final kill for the win against Randolph-Macon,” Tompkins said. “(Going into the game), I feel like we were very focused and very confident. Lora Ritter talked to us the night before and pointed out all the talent we had and how we just had to play with heart. That was how we went into that game and it definitely proved true.”

Ritter believes the Randolph-Macon win was a statement game for the Quakers.

“I think our mentality was to shock them,” Ritter said. “Honestly, that has been our goal all season: to shock the conference. Everyone always underestimates us, so we really want to change that mentality.”

Some of the younger players have began to mold themselves in Guilford’s system. First-year libero and defensive specialist Cydney Scott contributed 38 assists, 12 service aces and 252 digs over the season. First-year setter and defensive specialist Logan Taft showed her impact with 104 digs and 18 service aces. Tompkins highlighted the strong play from young players.

“Cydney really stepped up as a first-year, especially when we moved her to the libero,” Tompkins said. “I was also really proud of how Logan stepped into the defensive specialist role after coming in as a setter. (First-year) Mackenzie (Calton) was out for a pretty good while, but her blocks were huge in the last few games of the season.”

Head coach Emily Gann could return all 16 letter winners next season. The developed core looks to lead the volleyball team to an ODAC championship.