Everything’s Bigger in Texas: Volleyball Travels to San Antonio

Mario Santos-Davidson, Sports Writer

Whitman’s volleyball team began the 2017 season by traveling to San Antonio, Texas, to play in a tournament hosted by Trinity University. The four teams Whitman played against were all ranked in the top 25 nationally, including defending national champion Calvin College from Michigan. After improving from ninth, and therefore last place, in the Northwest Conference in 2015 to a tie for fourth in 2016, Whitman enters the 2017 season set on continuing the positive trend. This evolution will include bringing in and developing nine first-years into the program.

The opening game of the season was against 14-ranked host Trinity, and although Whitman put up a strong effort throughout, particularly in the second set where they fell 25-23, Trinity won in three straight sets. The remaining three games in Texas came against sixth-ranked Cal Lutheran, first-ranked Calvin College and 23-ranked Wisconsin-Oshkosh, respectively.

Whitman battled for every point, playing tough and hanging around until late in each set against top competition. This ability to stay within striking distance against top teams was impressive, even to the players themselves, as junior Megan Henry discussed.

“I don’t think we realized how much potential and talent we have until we saw it up against the top teams in the nation. Now that we know we can compete with that caliber of a team we have more confidence in what we do,” Henry said.

Entering a tournament full of nationally-ranked programs, the team expected and relished the opportunity to compete at a high level. Junior captain Codie Conching focused on the positives from the team’s first games of the season.

“I am so proud of my team because we truly competed against some of the most elite teams in the nation, coming within two points of winning a set against the reigning national champions,” Conching said.

Senior and fellow captain Anna Dawson echoed similar optimism, while also acknowledging what they had to work on to improve.

“We went in knowing it was going to be very tough, but we were excited to compete. We ended the tournament with four losses … but felt like we could learn a lot from those game to prepare us for conference,” Dawson said.

“We found that we wanted to become more mentally tough and technically tough. It was intimidating knowing the successes of the other teams, and at times I think that got to our heads,” Dawson continued.

The trip was also a great chance for the team to bond and bring all of the new players into the fold, while getting used to being part of a collegiate team. Megan Henry spoke to the usefulness of trips like this one.

“It gives our team a chance to bond more. We all room together and I think that helps integrate the team more instead of having a big separation between first-years and upperclassmen,” Henry said.

While the trip itself helps, much of the responsibility for the first-years’ transition falls on the returning players. Codie Conching praised this aspect of the team so far this season.

“I think the returnees have been doing an amazing job in terms of shaping and exemplifying the values and expectations of our team,” Conching said.

Conference play began with two more tight games against Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran on the road. Both games went the full five sets, with Whitman defeating Puget Sound and losing to Pacific Lutheran. In the victory, Whitman overcame a two-to-one set deficit by winning the fourth 25-20 and proceeded to take the tight fifth 17-15.

Whitman is off to a solid start in conference with a 1-1 record to begin the season, including a win over the second place finisher in the Northwest Conference from a season ago, Pacific Lutheran. This positive momentum combined with the competitive experience against some of the best teams in the nation from the San Antonio tournament gives Whitman volleyball the chance to have their best season in years.