October 29, 2019

Volleyball's Victorious Season

Strength, unity, focus, growth, and selflessness are words that have been used to describe UChicago women’s volleyball team this year. In what has been a historic year, the Maroons have claimed their first-ever No. 1 ranking, a UAA regular season championship and have defeated the No. 1 team twice in their current 24-game win streak. A massive period of growth has distinguished the program in the last three years. Anabella Pinton, a fourth-year, remembers her “first year when [they] lost [their] first two games of the season and later, didn’t qualify for NCAAs. It’s amazing to see how in just four years the program has really grown and has shifted from being the underdog who won the occasional big game to the team with the huge target on their backs.” This rise of the program has been solely possible through the hard work and determination of this current group. As third-year Fredericka Paulson puts it, “We have been working our butts off since the end of last season.”

Similar to this hard work, coach Sharon Dingman attributes this historic season to a very important trait of this team, which is grit. “What makes this team different is their grit. Their mental fortitude is impressive. We were down 8–22 in one set this season and came back to win that set 26–24. We were losing to Emory 14–21 and again, came back to win 25–22. Those types of comebacks take a belief in yourself, your teammates, skill, and grit!” These comebacks show a team that will not back down or quit no matter what circumstance they find themselves in. Sometimes top teams lack the experience of being in moments where things are not going their way and are struggling; this team, however, shows its capability to overcome those bad days at the office. Paulson believes that this mental toughness and grit that the players show may come from how close this group is: “I think what has really helped us to be successful is how close we all are and how much fun we have. We truly are playing because we love the game and love just being in the gym together. We also have really grown since the beginning of the season and are so much mentally tougher than we have ever been.”

In addition to their grit and mental toughness, their selflessness has allowed the Maroons to utilize their depth as a massive advantage this year. The competition for playing time is intense and has improved every player on the roster. Coach Dingman hails this attribute as the most important one throughout their season. “Our depth has been the most important contributor to our success. We make each other better every day at practice because we have so many skilled players. Unlike any team I’ve ever coached, [all the players] knows their roles, accepts the responsibilities that come with those roles and understands how each of them contributes to every win, whether they played that night or not.” Having all the players of the team accepting their role makes a coach’s life easy and shows the selflessness of this group. Coach Dingman, through this depth, has such confidence in all of the players on her roster that there has not been a surprise contributor, at least in her opinion. “There is no single player that has been my biggest surprise. I know what they are capable of and it has been so fun to see those who have been patiently waiting for their turn to shine rise to the occasion.” 

This team has already created long-lasting memories for this roster and coaching staff. However, Paulson depicts the defeat of Calvin at Ratner as the best moment of the season. “The crowd was insane, our bench was incredible, and everything just clicked on the court. The energy in the gym that night was something I had never experienced before and the stuff block that Ellie [Alden] had for match point was absolutely crazy.” Similarly, coach Dingman hailed the atmosphere as “amazing,” and she is “thrilled [that] our players got to experience that environment playing at home and, of course, beating [Calvin] made it even more amazing.” This team is primed to create even more memories down the stretch and hopefully make Ratner rock even more in the upcoming weeks. Pinton explains their goal perfectly, saying “[we] hope that we can be the one team that ends our season with a win.”