Last week was a rollercoaster for St. Olaf’s volleyball program. On Thursday, the team hosted third-seeded St. Benedict in a thrilling four-set win for a white-out home crowd. That victory took them to the MIAC championship against top-seeded St. Thomas, where they fell in four sets. It was a heartbreaking loss in the program’s second matchup against the Tommies this year, made less bitter only by the prospects of their admission at-large to the NCAA Tournament announced on Monday.
Throughout the season, Ole volleyball exceeded expectations in every facet of the game. A result of outstanding individual play, an impressive sense of team chemistry and intense overall preparation, their achievements did not surprise the players within the program.
“This was our underdog year,” Lauren Rewers ’20 said. “It was just about always showing up.”
Despite their trust in the program, the results of the regular season still came as a validation for the Oles.
“I don’t think our program has the respect that some other MIAC programs do … which is fine with us,” Rewers said. “All we have is this year and we’re gonna play for that.”
The team’s mentality going into the playoffs remained one of confidence and aspiration as they progressed towards harsher competition. The All-Conference roster placed four Oles on the team, more than any program except St. Thomas, which served as yet another validation of the team’s talent.
In a way, the lack of expectations going into the season was an advantage for the team. The program had a chip on its shoulder for much of the regular season and acted as a motivator throughout the season. The advantage, however, was weakened as the season progressed, especially as the talent of the competition increased. Taking the season one game at a time remained ever-important.
Because of this, preparation for post-season matches are similar to regular season.
“It’s just practice like every other day,” Rewers said. “We’re [at Skoglund] everyday from 2:30 until we leave for dinner at 6:30.”
The team works incredibly hard each day, but avoids falling into the trap of looking too far into the future. They focus on aspects of the game where they can make an impact rather than on outside factors they have no control over.
Stakes during the postseason, though, are admittedly higher. Teams that lost in the regular season return stronger and more dedicated than ever, and by nature the playoffs only admit the best teams of the regular season. Coach Emily Foster chose not to change any strategies for the postseason, though, and instead the team is sinking into the principles that led to its success throughout the fall.
In the first round of the playoffs the Oles are set to play Northwestern-St. Paul, a team they defeated in three sets during the regular season. It is likely that they would then face St. Benedict, for the third time this year, in the second round. If the program continues with the level of play seen in the regular season, their path to the final sixteen teams is realistic and, with perennial rival St. Thomas likely standing in their way, it is conceivable that they might go even farther into the tournament.