When the volleyball team took to the court Saturday for its annual Buff and Blue scrimmage, one thing was apparent: the starting lineup is still up in the air.
Tuning up for their season opener next Friday against Maryland, the Colonials squared off against one another, constantly ducking under the net and moving pieces around. The scrimmage showed the merry-go-round of player changes the team has seen this offseason, as well as the high number of potential starting rotations head coach Amanda Ault has to choose from.
“You’re looking at pretty much every position, and there is a question mark,” Ault said. “We’ll play to our favor throughout the season.”
That sentiment may worry most coaches, but not Ault, who has raved about the team’s depth, stating that this may just be the deepest GW roster she’s ever had.
“I don’t think that we’re going to have somebody who’s going to be that dominating force on the pin, but that’s also going to be a good thing,” Ault said. “We can be more balanced, spread things out, and I think that will make it harder for opposing teams to stop us.”
With a new team on the court and last season’s struggles behind them, the coming season has undoubtedly become one of redemption.
Due to injuries, a tough schedule and inconsistent performances, the volleyball team finished last season with a 10-18 record (7-7 A-10) and failed to make the Atlantic-10 Championships.
The Colonials now find themselves in the middle of the pack, ranked fifth in the A-10 preseason poll. Although Ault expected the middling ranking, she’s comfortable, and says she looks forward to her players playing with a chip on their shoulder.
“I’m actually okay with where we sit,” Ault said. “It gives us a little something to prove. We have a lot of newcomers, and I’m sure that’s probably why we were put in that place. We have to prove ourselves, I like being in that position.”
As if a bounce-back season wasn’t a tough enough challenge for the Colonials, the team will also be without two of the program’s best: outside hitter Lauren Whyte and libero Candace Silva-Martin.
Whyte earned four postseason All-Conference honors and ranks second for most kills in GW history, amounting 1,625 over her four-year career. Silva-Martin, who walked onto the team her freshman year, broke the A-10 volleyball digs record this past season, setting the new mark at 2,126.
While Ault admits that the loss of two of her top performers last year leaves gaping holes to fill, she believes players will rise to the occasion.
“By losing Laura and Candie, there are going to be some big shoes to fill,” said Ault, who will be entering her third year as head coach this season.
Ault will look to sophomore libero Maddy Doyle to step in and take the place of Silva-Martin. To replace the production of Whyte, Ault will turn to a mix of returning players, as well as freshmen, for production.
Players like junior Kelsey Newman and sophomore Maggie Skjelbred will look to pick up the slack left by Whyte. Newman ranked second behind Whyte last season in kills, while Skjelbred spent her offseason playing for the Norwegian national team.
The rest of the slack will likely be picked up by the seven-player recruiting class that joined the squad this year.
One of those newcomers is Emily Clemens, a heavily recruited freshman setter out of Lindenhurst, N.Y.
After her senior year at Lindenhurst High School, Clemens was named an Under Armour All-American and was the top volleyball player in a six-state region which included Massachusetts, Connecticut, Maine, New York, New Hampshire and Rhode Island.
Dedspite half the team being newcomers, Ault said that the team has gelled quite well.
“I’ve been really proud of these guys the last couple of weeks,” Ault said. “The things that they’ve done on and off the court to start to learn about each other more and come together. The returners have done a good job of taking the newcomers and making sure that they know the culture in the gym and about one another. That, in turn, will help their communication on the court as well.”
Ault’s sentiments on team chemistry were echoed by senior middle blocker Jamie Armstrong. Armstrong, who is continuing to rehab a nagging shoulder injury, said she is more confident than ever about the team’s chances based on their preseason training.
“Out of all the preseasons I’ve been a part of, this is definitely the best starting-off point me and the other seniors have been a part of,” said Armstrong, who led the Colonials last season in both total blocks and service aces. “Our team is pretty young, but they are jumping right in and slowly gaining that confidence that will come in handy the rest of the season and help us win more games.”
Despite the budding chemistry, Ault said, the team still shows signs that they’re in fact a young group and have some kinks to work out as the season progresses.
“We’ve talked a lot this preseason – and it was very apparent today, as well – that we’ve got to take care of our first ball contact, passing the ball and defense,” Ault said. “On defense, we are making some good moves, but we just need to make sure we’re putting it in the middle of the floor.”
When asked to sum up her expectations for the upcoming season in a few words, Ault responded: “To learn.”
“There are a lot of great things that we can do this season, but we have to learn from our experiences, learn from our setbacks, and by being able to do that, I think that will put us in the right place,” Ault said.