The varsity girls volleyball team is ready to dig in to a challenging and fun season this fall with fresh new players, and, after the graduation of five seniors, a revamped starting line.
Dylan Fulcher-Melendy ’20 and Jersey Strum ’20 have heeded the call to lead, and the squad is already starting to find its rhythm, despite a tough first few games, which included matches with Kingswood-Oxford, Hotchkiss, Berkshire, Pomfret, and Stoneleigh-Burnham over the last two weeks, from September 16-28.
The team roster consists of Dylan Fulcher-Melendy ’20, Jersey Strum ’20, Katie Borden ’20, Jade Chan ’20, Erin Chai ’21, Tomi Akisanya ’21, Sydney Wegner ’21, Taryn Queenin ’21, Grace Bean ’22, Anita Hua ’22, Aimie Wipulakorn ’22, Praghya Raja ’22, and Izzy Ireland ’23.
Ken Choo became head coach this year. He is assisted by Kelsie Dwyer, a junior at Springfield College who decided to take some time off of her collegiate career to coach high school volleyball. Matt KaneLong also assists the team while balancing his time with the Thirds team.
Though she’s on the younger end of the team, Praghya Raja ’22, from India, said she does not “feel like an outsider because the team is very inclusive.”
“I really like the coaches,” she said. “They are really tough and make us work hard, but at the same time they are very nice, and we do a lot of team bonding activities to know the team better.”
Praghya really likes the captains and feels that they have been crucial to the cohesiveness of the team.
“Dylan and Jersey are really good captains both on and off the court,” she told The Willistonian. “They always say hi to me outside of volleyball they always make small conversations with me.”
Grace Bean ’22, a two year member of the team said the team’s ability to work together is a big strength.
The team relies more on defense and getting digs to keep the ball alive, Grace explained. “We learned how to be more of a defensive team rather than relying on two tall players like we did last year. I think it made the team better overall, and we all learned where we fit on the court.”
She credits their new coaching staff this year for recognizing their strengths and weaknesses.
“I think that the coaches work well together and make the team super fun,” she said. “Coach Dwyer also plays the good cop and bad cop, and she knows what we need. She can lead us to be a really good team.”
Grace agreed with Praghya that communication is important. “We need to work on communication and getting to every ball and keeping the energy high even when we are losing,” she said. “For the past few games, I think that we played really well, especially because it is the beginning of the season. Everything isn’t perfect yet.”
Katie Borden, a senior from Amherst, told The Willistonian how comfortable the environment is. “Everyone is okay with being weird,” she said. “It is something that hasn’t been a huge thing in the last couple of years.”
She also mentioned that while the team is a friendly environment, their performance during games mainly depends on their energy. “For the past games we’ve improved a crazy amount, but we still lose the energy. It comes in waves.”
One of the captains, Dylan Fulcher-Melendy ’20, from Easthampton, emphasized how important the defense is. “We have a very strong defensive team and have girls that can play all around,” she said. “We trust putting people in all positions and at any moment.”
However, Dylan said the greatest challenge the team has faced so far is not knowing what they’re capable of. “We have a good foundation and so much potential, but really it’s only ourselves and that is going to prevent us from being great and winning,” she said. “We know how to play, but we need to know how to win. We have had so many five set games in the past. The little extra push towards winning is not what we have figured out yet.”
Dylan believes in the team, however she wishes that everyone, including the girls did too.
“We have always been that team on campus that is the ‘losing’ team that we need to prove people wrong,” she said. “We don’t believe in our own potential even though it is there. This is when we fight and prove to people that we are better than we are.”
Although it is still early into the season, Coach Choo is supportive and proud of the group of girls he’s working with. “I love the team this year,” he said. “I feel like that there are so many strengths that this team brings to the table.”
Choo said his team is “full of fight and energy, and I love all the characters on the team. We have different personalities, but somehow they are all meshed together, and support one another. Everyone seems to be committed to getting better.”