The volleyball program has been on the rise for the last couple years, finishing a program-best second place in the Ivy League for the 2012-2013 season. But with the loss of three All-Ivy players, the Lions face a huge challenge this season if they are to bring home their first Ivy League title.
Outside hitter Megan Gaughn and middle blocker Heather Braunagel, who were both named to the All-Ivy First Team, graduated last spring. Gaughn compiled a program-high 1284 kills and also contributed 1065 digs in her four years at Columbia.
Right-side hitter Caitlin Brenton transferred to UC San Diego after a strong season in which she finished second on the team with 149 kills and was named to the All-Ivy Second team.
Despite the loss of these star players, head coach Jon Wilson remains adamant that the influence they had on the volleyball program will be lasting.
“Megan, Heather, and all the players before them, their faces and names have passed on, but it’s like Yoda. Their spirits are still there,” Wilson said. “They can’t go onto the court, so we have to move forward without them. We have the current players to take the program down the road now.”
With only three upperclassmen on the roster, there has been a focus on providing leadership and experience to the 11 younger players on the court.
“As a member of the old core of players on the team, I see my new role as maintaining the culture and keeping that spirit alive and instilling it in the new generation of volleyball players that we have,” senior Savannah Fletcher said.
The newer players have responded especially well to the guidance of the older players, and their enthusiasm and discipline reflect the competitive, winning culture that has developed over recent years.
“Already, a lot of our first-years are comfortable asking any and all questions of us upperclassmen,” Fletcher said. “When you have first-years asking, ‘When practice starts at 8, do I have to show up there 15 minutes before then to warm up?’ it shows that we really are setting an example, and that people are raising the standards. They’re not just thinking, ‘Oops, I’m late. Oh well, I’m just a freshman.’”
Unlike in previous seasons, when the team had a “go-to” hitter such as Gaughn, the volleyball team has formed a new identity based upon a balanced offense.
Sophomore outside hitters Atlanta Moye-Mclaren, Lucy Tilton, and Bailey Springer have had strong off-seasons and showed their hard work in the first preseason tournament. Moye-Mclaren was named to the All-Tournament team at the Wildcat Challenge after leading the team in kills. Tilton and Springer have become more consistent players who can contribute effectively both with offense and passing.
“Something has occurred, there’s a confidence in the players that they can be the difference on any given night,” Wilson said. “It may be tough for setters to distribute the ball, but it is better in the long run to have multiple poles of reference. We’re much more difficult to defend against.”
The players know that with this balanced attack, five or all six players on the court need to be ready to play, as every contribution to the team will be especially valuable in order to pick up wins.
Players to watch this season include freshman setter Jennifer Petrovich, who Wilson says is the best freshman setter he has worked with. Petrovich has stepped up this preseason, replacing senior captain Colleen Brennan after she became injured.
“I’m excited about the team we have,” Wilson said. “We’ll get better through playing together and we’ll learn to deliver under pressure in league games.”