To be the best, you have to play the best. It’s a lesson the Hillsdale volleyball team learned this past weekend at the Ferris State University Invitational in Big Rapids, Michigan.
The Chargers kicked off their season with matches against some of the best teams in the country, including Concordia University, St. Paul, the defending NCAA Division II National Champions.
“Three out of the four opponents that we played were nationally ranked teams and the team that wasn’t nationally ranked is a regional powerhouse,” head coach Chris Gravel said.
The Chargers went 2 – 2 in the tournament, beating Clarion University in four games and No. 17 Winona State University in three. They couldn’t quite hold off No. 21 Ferris State University or No. 1 Concordia, St. Paul, dropping both matches in four games.
“The two we lost, we were in position where we could’ve won,” Gravel said. “It was a crazy weekend and there were a lot of good things that came out of it. But, anytime we lose, it doesn’t matter who we’re against. I’m not going to be happy.”
One positive from the weekend was a personal achievement by senior outside hitter Kara Vyletel. Vyletel notched her 1,000th career kill in the Chargers’ match against Clarion. Vyletel is now one of nine Chargers who have recorded at least 1,000 kills in their time at Hillsdale.
“Few have been able to get 1,000 kills in their career, but few have had the blessing to have such a strong team to play with for four years straight,” Vyletel said. “Without the help from middle and right side hitters acting as threats and pulling the block, I would not have been as successful. I’ve also been blessed with extremely talented setters that were able to put the ball in the perfect spot for me.”
Moving forward, the Chargers don’t plan on being content with simply putting up a fight against Ferris State and Concordia, St. Paul.
“We’re not going to just say the No. 1 team in the nation beat us,” freshman Margaret Deporre said. “We’re going to practice even harder so we can beat them the next time we see them.”
Intensity and readiness is the name of the game for this year’s Chargers, who began training for the season in early August.
“Everybody on this team is bought in,” Deporre said. “You can see it in every rep, every practice, every workout. Everybody wants to get better and everybody understands that if one person isn’t 100 percent bought in, then the whole program is going to suffer.”
A preseason coaches poll predicts the Chargers to successfully defend last season’s G‑MAC Championship.
“We’re hoping to improve from last year. Last year we had to fight from behind all year,” Gravel said. “It’s going to be tough — just the development of our current and new players, and hopefully we stay relatively injury free.”
Gravel plans to keep his team focused, taking the season point by point.
“A real big focus is staying in the present,” Gravel said. “Right now, we’re all focused on our home opener. We’re going to live in the matches this year. We have a lot of things we need developed by the end of the season, and with a large talented team, sometimes it takes a little time.”
The Chargers open their conference schedule at home on Thursday against Ohio Valley University at 7 p.m. Gravel encouraged students to come out and support the team.
“We work hard and try to put on a good show,” Gravel said. “We know that winning definitely helps. That’s going to be a byproduct of the effort that we’re going to put forth and our energy on and off the floor.”