It took last year’s team twelve games to notch its first win. This year’s team did it in four games. Last year’s team did not win a single match until conference play began September 18 against last-place La Salle while this year’s team won its second match to start a five-game winning streak. Three weeks into the season, the 2002 Colonials (9-5) have surpassed the total number of wins they tallied all of last season by three matches.
The reason for the change? Team chemistry, head coach Jojit Coronel said.
“After last season there is no where to go but up,” Coronel said. “Now everyone enjoys coming to practice . volleyball is fun for them.”
Last year’s season was not as fun. The team was in a serious rebuilding year after graduating five starting seniors from its 2000 NCAA tournament squad. There were six rookies, a second-year coach and only one player with starting experience. They finished seventh in the conference with a losing record of 6-18.
But in 2002 Coronel said his team has the athleticism, experience and wherewithal to win.
“The movement we are making to get better is so much different than last year,” he said. “We’re just going to let the horses run and see how far they can go.”
The team is still young. There are no seniors, and the underclassmen outweigh the juniors nine to four. But because they were thrown into the game at such a high level last year, the sophomore class was forced to mature quickly.
“When you’re thrown in as a freshman, it’s win or lose. Sophomores know it’s a process and games are an outcome of how hard you work,” Coronel said. “Now it’s the little things that make us better and playing is just a performance.”
Two of last year’s freshmen, Britta Stroman and Molly Law, were regular starters and are experienced beyond what their year would suggest. Stroman, a 6-foot-2 middle blocker, was named to the 2001 Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team and was voted GW’s Rookie of the Year. She lead the team in games played and attack percentage and was second in attack total.
Stroman underwent shoulder surgery last February and Coronel said she will most likely be cleared for next weekend when the team starts A-10 play.
“It will take some time but by the end of the season when it really counts she’ll be back at full strength and fresh,” he said.
Law, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter, led the team in service aces (20) and was third on the team in dig average last season.
They join returning junior starters Lauren Dunning, Laura Harrison, Sarah Hokom and Ruth Lazzari. Lazzari was the only Colonial to make the All Conference team last year, leading the team in attacks, kills and digs.
Coronel said co-captains Dunning and Hokom provide a “tremendous amount of leadership,” and are very much complimented by their classmates and the returning sophomores.
“(Everyone has) been through a lot since last season, everyone has contributed and everyone has their role as a leader,” Coronel said. “Everyone just fits into the right place.”
Coronel said even his team’s early losses, especially against teams like Eastern Washington, Utah State and Pittsburgh, have been helpful in putting the package together.
“The most important thing (in these earlier games) is we got to play at a higher level and see teams we don’t usually see. That really opens our eyes,” he said.
The team holds a 9-4 record as they head into conference play next weekend, a far cry from last year’s 0-6 pre-conference record. Coronel said he expects the toughest competition to come from Rhode Island and Temple, who finished third and fourth, respectively, in the conference last season.
With this newfound chemistry, Coronel thinks his team is capable of making the tournament and challenging for a conference title as long as they remain consistent.