In four years, Juliene McLaughlin has become one with the Smith Center floor.
McLaughlin, a senior on the volleyball team, dives after every ball, desperately sprawling her 5-foot-9 frame on the hardwood floor to save her team.
As a leader and vocal player, the Ontario native has shouldered much of the blame for the squad’s last two mediocre seasons, but McLaughlin is not unfamiliar with success. She was a freshman in 2003 when the Colonials opened the season with 10 consecutive victories and finished third in the Atlantic 10.
That winning feeling is coming back to the Colonials after a 3-1 win over Loyola (Md.) Sunday. The Colonials won the GW Invitational and extended their season-opening winning streak to six games.
“It’s nice to see that we still know how to win,” said McLaughlin, who picked up 12 kills and a career-high 22 defensive digs against Loyola. “It gives us confidence.”
The team’s chemistry, partially concocted by co-captain McLaughlin, is unlike years before, head coach Jojit Coronel said. The intangible quality is difficult to capture and has been thin in recent years. Coronel said he does not know what makes this year’s squad mesh so easily.
“If I knew how to get team chemistry, I would’ve done it the last two years,” Coronel said. “This year is just different in a lot of ways.”
This season, the team has the rare ability to foster younger players. Freshmen, who traditionally had to make major contributions in their first season, are getting more time to develop and understand the mechanics of GW’s game under the leadership of the four seniors: McLaughlin, Abba Greenleaf, Kelly Kabbes and Kaimana Lee.
McLaughlin, the team’s co-captain, has transformed into a great player by adopting a new attitude of enjoying her time on the court, Coronel said.
“She’s really come into her own in that aspect,” Coronel said of McLaughlin. “She realizes she’s a senior and this is her last hurrah, so she’s playing to a different level.”
With four integral members of the team graduating, Coronel said he is taking advantage of the leadership the seniors provide.
“We’re just kind of letting them play in practice and see where they go wrong,” Coronel said. “Once they make the mistake we try to reinforce what’s right, and the older players are really helpful with that.”
In the win Sunday, three of four freshmen saw playing time, but upperclassmen largely led the Colonials to the win. GW didn’t cruise to victory, as it did in consecutive sweeps against Coppin State and Farleigh Dickinson Saturday. The Greyhounds (1-6) won the second game 30-18 to push the Colonials to four games. Greenleaf’s 17 kills and six digs, and sophomore Liz Moult’s 11 kills and seven digs anchored the win.
Moult and classmate Jen Leftwich are two underclassmen that will be stepping into important roles on the team, Coronel said. With junior Janine Brown sidelined by a sprained ankle, the sophomores saw more time on the court and had the chance to show their skills.
In a season where the squad looks to reestablish itself as a contender in the Atlantic 10, no matches are taken lightly. Contests with weaker teams like Loyola, where sophomores are likely to have the chance to shine, are taken as seriously as matches with big conference teams such as Virginia Tech and Wake Forest, whom GW faces in the coming weeks.
Each serve and dig is executed with the same intensity. When the team walks off the court, they begin thinking about the next opponent.
“We try to play the games professionally,” McLaughlin said. “After it’s over, we concentrate on the next challenge.”
Coronel agreed and said playing the Hokies in Blacksburg, Va., will require the same amount of mental preparation as Loyola.
“We could’ve easily laid down and lost to Loyola,” Coronel said. “But with this team, the chemistry is just there.”