Rosemary Chesney, asst. sports editor
COVID-19 restrictions took a toll on all college sports for the past two years. After 2020’s modified season, Berry women’s volleyball team started the 2021 season strong, winning seven of their eight games as of Sept. 20th. Despite the young team of mostly freshmen and sophomores, the team anticipates a promising season ahead.
The 2020 season brought along many challenges for the team, some with lasting effects impacting the 2021 season. With only nine games under their belt, many of the current sophomores have limited experience playing a collegiate level sport. Head Coach Caitlyn Moriarty said the hardest part for the players was the physical separation from each other during the fall and spring shutdown. The 2020 season also graduated two key senior players and leaders on the team, Cyrena Bedoian and Sam Heard.
“The hardest part [of last season] was being away from each other and wanting to get back to Berry and the community that we have built,” Moriarty said. “This year we just want to compete as hard as we can because this past year, we have seen that it’s such a privilege to be on this team and represent Berry, but it can be taken from us at any point.”
Within the first few weeks of their season, the team has won seven of their eight games, losing in four sets to the 2020 conference tournament championship team, Birmingham Southern college, on Sept. 19. They won both preseason tournaments and have 14 regular conference games before the Emory tournament and NCAA playoffs.
The team consists of 19 players, with only two being seniors. Laura Beier is a senior three-time defensive player of the year recipient, and Anna Rumore is a key player for the team, who plays libero. Two-thirds of the team are sophomores and freshmen, making this a very young team.
“I think for us being young is equivalent to being hungry and committed to learning and growing,” Moriarty said. “We’ve already seen a lot of young players have experiences that not many freshmen and sophomores get at this point in their careers.”
There are potential challenges with a young team. Many freshmen and sophomores have little collegiate level competition experience. Sophomore captain Jazzy Innis said that the biggest obstacle with a young team is handling the mental toughness of a college sport.
The team’s ultimate goal is to win a national championship. They have won six of the past eight conference titles and were ranked 16th nationally once in the past 10 years. Additionally, Berry’s women volleyball program is consistently ranked in the top 10 teams of their division.
“This year our expectations are just to jump in and be locked in and ready for the next game,” Innis said. “We expect to pull out a successful season by growing the team culture and bonds together. Our coaches pride themselves on [helping us] become better women as well as athletes on and off the court.”
Culture is a crucial component to the team. Moriarty said that the volleyball program intentionally selects high school seniors who demonstrate off-court leadership as well as volleyball skills. She calls this recruiting idea “both and athletes,” choosing players who are both good teammates and good athletes.
“One word to describe our team culture is relational,” John Oates, assisstant coach, said. “We spend twice as much time on the family aspect [of volleyball] because if we learn how to manage conflict and navigate clear conversations we will build trust, which is a must [needed component] on the volleyball court.”
According to Moriarty, The team looks forward to playing a rematch game against Birmingham- Southern later in the season and hopes to have a shot at a national championship title. With such a young squad, Moriarty anticipates a strong next few seasons as the freshman and sophomores transition into juniors and seniors.