The Hillsdale College women’s volleyball team is preparing for its first season as members of the Great Midwest Athletic Conference.
Last season, the Chargers went 16-12 overall. Six of the team’s seven starters are returning to the team, along with the addition of five promising freshmen. In a recent preseason coaches poll, the team was ranked third in the G-MAC’s western division.
Junior right side hitter Paige VanderWall said that the new conference offers the Chargers an opportunity to establish themselves with a new set of teams and also vye against familiar competitors.
“While we will see new opponents, some of the teams from our old conference, like Lake Erie and Findlay, are moving with us,” she said. “It’ll be nice to keep our rivalry with Findlay and play different teams, as well.”
Head coach Chris Gravel explained the biggest challenge that comes with the transition to the G-MAC will be more time on the road.
“The conference will not be a big change for us,” he said. “We will, however, spend a little more time on the bus.”
VanderWall agreed that the demanding schedule will be a serious hurdle the Chargers will need to overcome.
“Our team has talked a ton about playing each match hard, because the season does get long and each one of those matches is an important step to where we’d like to end up at the end of the season,” she said. “We also have a lot of weekends of back-to-back traveling, which is tough, both physically and mentally. So being able to be each other’s support systems and keep each other focused on our goals will be important for all of us.”
Gravel said every part of the team’s preseason preparation is aimed at building the kind of habits and skills which will translate to enduring success throughout the season.
“We know we can play at a very high level. Playing at that level often is always a challenge,” Gravel said. “Since our last match of last season, the team has made it their mission to improve the way they represent the college through its program. The stakes are high, the expectations are high, and preparation is a constant reality.”
Freshman libero Madelyn Schider said the team is concentrating on preparing for the season in two specific areas — focus and communication.
“One challenge has been focus, so our coach has made sure to incorporate many drills to keep us alert, which has helped substantially,” she said. “In addition, every team faces some communication problems at the start of a season, but through mental and physical training we have already made progress to understand each other.”
Schider said one of the reasons she chose to play for Hillsdale is the close-knit team community. VanderWall said this family-like atmosphere is really motivating the team to get a strong start and combat those early challenges with communication.
“During this preseason, I’ve felt, even more than my past two years, a strong familial bond amongst the team that I think we all really buy into,” VanderWall said. “I think that will really be a strength going into regular season, because we play as a family and play for each other which is really special.”
The Chargers open their season with tilts against Michigan Tech University, Indianapolis University, Glenville State College, and Saginaw Valley University at Dawn Tibbetts Arena this weekend.