Whitman volleyball digs in for strong finish

Julian Reed

The Whitman volleyball team finished its season strong this weekend with wins on the road over Lewis & Clark College and George Fox University. The success came as a welcome end to a season that has featured many ups and downs, including a five-game skid before the current three-game winning streak.

The team went 11-14 on the season and had a 7-9 conference record. Head Women’s Volleyball Coach Matthew Helm emphasized the positive from several close losses.

Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

“We’ve lost five set matches or really close set matches to the top four teams in the conference. So it’s promising for us to know that we are at that level, that we can compete with those teams,” he said.

The issues the team faced during some of the tough parts of the season were more mental than anything else, according to senior Captain Franny Gardner.

“I feel that the ups and downs we experienced came from attitude inconsistencies between sets. Physical skills were never a real issue for this group. It was just pure unrelenting determination that we struggled to find sometimes,” she said.

For the team’s two seniors, Gardner and Megan Bafus, this final road trip meant the end of their Whitman careers. The two were honored at Whitman’s final home game on Senior Night a week before.

“Senior night was an awesome experience,” said Gardner. “Megan and I were incredibly excited and thought that our team was in a very good position for a great weekend. More than anything, we wanted to give it our all wholeheartedly and have no regrets.”

Megan Bafus '15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Megan Bafus ’15. Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Gardner and Bafus joined juniors Hannah Linsenmayer and Abby Seethoff as the only upperclassmen on this young team. The team attributes some of their struggles, especially late in matches, to their relative inexperience.

“I think part of it is growing pains, I think part of it is having those experiences and those types of games. We need to learn to risk failure. I think that sometimes we’re a little afraid of taking some chances when it gets close. So we’re learning how to do that. And these experiences that we’ve had this year will help us in the future,” said Helm.

Although their youth occasionally gave them problems, the future of this team is very bright. Gardner emphasized continuity and the opportunities the underclassmen-heavy roster affords the team.

“I have very high hopes for the future of the program,” she said in an email. “We only have two seniors and two juniors this year, which will be a huge blessing for the team. All four of us are big components of the starting six, but by only graduating two people at a time in consecutive years, our coach will be able to put mature and confident players onto the court in the future.”

First-year Rachael Haggen says the team showed promise in exceeding expectations.

“I have a great feeling about the seasons to come,” she said. “At the beginning of this season when the rankings came out we were expected to be one of the last teams in the conference, but we ended up tied for fifth. We wanted more than anything to prove the rankings wrong.”

The team will have adjustments to make, however. Bafus was second on the team in kills, and her role the blocking schemes and offensive attack will be tough to replace. Helm mentions Haggen, Bafus’s backup, as someone who could help offset the loss, a big role she hopes to fill.

“At the beginning of the season Coach told me to pay specific attention to [Bafus] as a player on the court and try to learn as much as I could from her before she graduates, so that’s what I did. She is a consistent, competitive and positive teammate on the court which helps our team during our toughest matches and in crucial plays. There are certain things that [Bafus]¬†brings to the team that will be missed next year and the fact that coach believes I could help offset that loss means a great deal to me,” said Helm.

Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.
Photo by Hannah Bashevkin.

Helm downplayed expectations for next year, saying that with the right mental approach, the results will fall into place.

“Well obviously we’re looking to win a conference championship, that’s why we play. But it’s going to be about the process … We have a great core coming back that will help the freshmen come in and understand what we’re trying to do, and we have all those growing pains that we learn from this year. And they’re not going to want to feel that way next year,” said Helm.

Helm also made sure to thank the fans for their attendance and support.

“We’ve seen an increase in our attendance, and I think we’ve been playing some exciting volleyball,” he said. “So I’d just like to thank all the faculty, administration and student body for coming out and supporting us this year, and we look forward to seeing you next year,” he said.