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Spec­tators watch the vol­leyball team in person for the first time since COVID-19. | Hannah Cote

This past week, the Hillsdale College vol­leyball team com­peted in Dallas, Texas, in the AVCA tour­nament, hosted for the first time ever due to Covid-19. The team came in first place in the silver bracket, and beat Gannon Uni­versity, who gave the first loss earlier in the season.

“We learned a lot about our­selves, our strengths and our short­comings, and what we need to work on and how we need to per­severe,” head coach Chris Gravel said. 

The Chargers spent the next three weeks after the G‑MAC cham­pi­onship tour­nament preparing for the tournament.

“It had been over a month since we had played an actual game against an opponent other than our­selves,” Van Wienen said. “Which means we spent the three weeks after the con­ference tour­nament prac­ticing really hard.”

The hard com­pe­tition the team faced all season pre­pared them well heading into a tour­nament that invited the best teams from around the nation. 

“Regionals are always tough because they’re the best teams in your region,” Gravel said. “But this was like super-regionals.”

The team played 25 matches in four days, had an overall record of 4 – 2, and earned ninth in the whole tour­nament, with the third best win record and silver bracket title. The Chargers com­peted against Flagler, Wingate, Gannon twice, Texas Woman’s Uni­versity, and Hen­derson State.

“I think the toughest com­pe­tition we played that week was Wingate,” Van Wienen said. “On that first day, their offense was clicking and their defense was making incredible saves. Against Wingate teams we had a very tough time finding ways to score points and, while we did take them to five sets, we ended up losing that match.”

Back in Feb­ruary, the Chargers gave up a tough loss to Gannon, and they had not one but two chances to compete against the rival in Texas. They went to five matches in both games and won both.

“It could have been really dis­cour­aging, we could have quit,” Gravel said. “But we kept playing and we found a little crack in their armor and just went nuts. Even all the girls on the bench, when they are on or off the court, none of them had voices.”

Gannon won the first two matches of the second game, but the Chargers bounced back and took the victory over Gannon, a feeling they had been chasing after all season. 

“It was fun to finally beat Gannon,” junior outside hitter Karoline Shelton said. “I think after the first day we all got our act together and when we finally played Gannon when we were closer to the highest level we could play at.”

Now, the team looks forward to a summer of con­di­tioning and training in prepa­ration for the fall regular season. All four seniors will be returning to play for a fifth year, in line with their Covid-19 eligibility.

“We are all def­i­nitely looking forward to next season,” Van Wienen said. “I think what I will remember most from this past season is how thankful I am for even being able to have a season this year, no matter what that season ended up being. This season will go down in the books for many reasons and I am so grateful for every­thing it ended up being.”

Shelton said she was also grateful for the chal­lenges the team was faced with this season, and the way they were able to overcome them.

“This past season could be described as a season of resilience,” Shelton said. “No matter what hap­pened with COVID and a shorter season, we had to overcome a lot of chal­lenges but con­tinued to keep pushing forward.”