Volleycats end successful season

Volleycats+end+successful+season

Photo credit Eric Zimmermann

On a mid-October evening, the varsity volleyball team met the Blessed Trinity Titans in the quarterfinals of the state playoffs. Tremendous energy enveloped the gymnasium as fans on either side rallied in support of their team. The gravity of the game, combined with the excitement, led to spirited interactions between the two sides. The depth of Westminster student involvement was as praiseworthy as it was entertaining, as the girls’ home uniforms were passed around, and the Westminster male student body proudly donned the ill-fitting polyester jerseys in support of the team. According to Coach Jona Braden, the enthusiasm of the fans was an immense source of motivation for her and the players, as the whole congregation shared an equal vigor.

After a back-and-forth battle, the VolleyCats won the first game 28-26 against a BT team that was expected to trump the Wildcats. The Wildcats started the second game down three points but battled back to tie the game at 6-6, only to fall again behind the Titans. After multiple timeouts, the team would close the gap and find itself even with the Titans, once again.

Head coach Jona Braden credits the effort that the players put forth in practice as the source of the late, second-game comeback. “[I] gave them the cues and reminders to keep it simple,” said Braden. “We need to win one point at a time.”

Even though the Wildcats were within three points of victory, Blessed Trinity held them off and dominated the last five points, which proved to be a reoccurring theme for the match. The VolleyCats fell in the second game 19-25, making the match even at 1-1 in a best of five series.

The Wildcats opened an 8-4 lead in the third game only to lose the next thirteen points and fall to a 17-8 deficit. However, this only set the stage for an equally commanding comeback to draw within three points of the lead, led by senior Nikki Zimmermann’s efforts to keep each point alive.

“The players responded to [Zimmermann’s] energy,” said Braden, “and gave it right back.”

Yet a comeback fell out of their reach again as the Cats lost the next five points, and the game, 25-17.

Entering the fourth game, the team faced uncertainty as the end of the season loomed. After going down by six points to start the game, the team began to play with desperation in order to stay alive in the state playoffs and mounted yet another near comeback. It turned out to be too little, too late, and the Cats lost the fourth game and the match, 3-1.

Despite losing, Braden was proud of her team for overcoming controversy and injury and elevating to the highest level possible against a formidable Blessed Trinity team. “Ultimately, the goal is to be prepared for post-season play,” said Braden, “and to have a chance to go after the championship,” a goal which this year’s team unquestionably achieved.

The team’s goal since the beginning of the season was to achieve elevation, a mentality that was absorbed by the players.

“Being a part of Westminster volleyball at the varsity level is truly a privilege,” said sophomore Ellie Hartman. “It’s not only about the winning, but also about the journey and the extent of elevation a team can achieve. For us, that meant the elite eight.”

Hartman was one of four underclassmen on the team and an integral component in the state quarterfinal game. She was joined by freshmen attackers Mason Rooney and Kerrie Green, along with sophomore Caroline Beadles. Injuries and competition necessitated the performance of the underclassmen, and they quickly became another cog in Braden’s volleyball machine.

“At the beginning of the season I was a sophomore joining an established group of volleyball players,” said Hartman. “I wasn’t quite sure how I might contribute. In the end, my role was more clearly defined, and I felt I was a significant part of the team on and off the court.”

The contributions of the four underclassmen have given Braden a reason to be optimistic about the future of the program.

“The experience that our younger players have, due to the way our older players embraced them and helped them learn as much as possible, made them able to step into the spotlight and perform,” said Braden. “One of our players in the locker room thanked and congratulated the players on how well they stepped into critical roles.”

“Nine seniors made for plenty of leadership on and off the court,” said Hartman. “It was amazing that each of them had a role in shaping our team.”

Senior outside hitter Ellie Fahs was content with the way she ended her final season and is confident in the abilities of the team she will leave behind.

“It was a good way to end the season. We played so well against BT and won one of the games in the match,” said Fahs. “Even though nine seniors are leaving the team, the juniors, sophomores, and freshmen will set very high standards for the 2012 season.”

In the 2011 season, the Wildcats faced state contenders in three-fourths of their games, and they had to compete with three number-one ranked teams in the state, but what the 2011 Wildcats will value most is the experience acquired by the future of the Westminster volleyball program, a force that will be reckoned with during the next couple of years and beyond.