After loss of seniors, volleyball team rebuilds with six first-years

by Samantha Hussey | 9/18/17 2:00am

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Following the loss of eight seniors, the volleyball team looks to rebuild this year, beginning with six first-years.

by Paula Kutschera / The Dartmouth Staff

After graduating a record eight seniors, second-year head coach Gilad Doron and the volleyball program head toward league play with a young team in a rebuilding year. The Big Green (4-5) concluded tournament play this past weekend at the University of New Hampshire’s Holly Young Invitational, its third consecutive weekend tournament and the last non-conference matchup before the Ivy slate begins.

Last season, with assistants Eyal Zimet and Tara Hittle, the Big Green finished with an overall record of 9-16, 2-12 in league play and eighth in the Ivy League. According to Doron, a host of unforeseen circumstances affected the team’s performance.

“We had some major injuries, so we never got to see the team in full potential,” Doron said. “I thought the team worked really hard, but unfortunately we didn’t get the results we wanted. We started well, but once we lost our starting setter [Stacey Benton ’17] to a season-ending injury, things forced us to try too many things.”

Sara Lindquist ’18, one of three current captains and the lone senior of the team, found that it took time both for the coaches to get used to the Big Green program and the team and for the team to get used to the coaches.

“With a new program, there is always an adjustment period and I think we definitely felt that last season, but we’ve definitely melded to each other and we are all on the same page now,” Lindquist said. “[Last year], we had a lot of talent and I think we went into the season with a lot of high expectations, but for whatever reason we had a hard time finishing.”

At the end of last season, Dartmouth lost eight players to graduation, making the Class of 2017 the largest graduating class in program history. To help replace the outgoing seniors, the Big Green added six first-years: Tola Akinwumi ’21, Mallen Bischoff ’21, Lauren Douglas ’21, Olympia Nagel-Caland ’21, Elise Petit ’21 and Leeza Poselski ’21, as well as Tori Dozier ’20, a sophomore transfer from North Carolina State University. New assistant coach Marissa Prinzbach, a former Division I setter, adds playing experience to the coaching staff.

With league play on the horizon, Doron has stressed the need for a higher level of commitment from returning athletes if they want this season’s outcome to be different.

“The recruits we brought knew why we were bringing them, so for them it’s about the transition from high school or club and how much they have to commit to be a student-athlete at Dartmouth,” Doron said. “For the return[ing players], it’s more about how much better did they get from last year and what do I bring to the team to make us better knowing what the coaches’ demands are.”

Doron considers this year’s squad to be an entirely new team.

“It is a smaller group of players, and we have been working really hard,” Doron said. “We feel like we have more talent where we can be more competitive this year.”

Poselski has felt the team is slowly but surely finding its rhythm and figuring out the role each team member needs to fill to make the team successful.

“Coming in, I think [Doron] recruited a class that he knew would come in and make an impact,” Poselski said. “Even though we lack a lot of seniority, there is not a lack of leadership on the team. Even as freshmen, anyone can come on the court and lead the team.”

Going into league play, what both coaching staff and players find is that any school can win on any given night, depending on “who brings the edge and momentum,” according to Lindquist.

Doron expects improving on last season’s results to be a challenge.

“The league is much better than it used to be,” Doron said. “I think Princeton [University] and Yale [University] are very strong teams this year. Cornell [University] and Columbia [University] have a lot of returners and can stay up there, and I think Harvard [University] is always very talented, so it’s going to be a challenge for us every game.”

One goal for the Big Green is to beat the Princeton Tigers. Since 1977, Princeton has won 15 Ivy League Championships, putting it first among the Ivies with the most conference titles, with the University of Pennsylvania next at 10. Neither Dartmouth nor Columbia has ever won a league title. Dartmouth’s 1998 season, the program’s best ever, finished with the Big Green tied for second with Princeton.

“[Princeton] definitely has a target on their back,” Poselski said. “We are the underdogs, I think, so we’re looking to surprise everybody.”

Doron said that the ultimate goal for the coaching staff is to bring an Ivy championship, the first in program history, but also noted that the rebuilding process takes time.

“We have to be patient and as long as we direct our players and they are responding and getting better, I have full confidence that we will get there,” Doron said. “Whether it happens this year, next year or three years down the road, that is to be determined, but I think we already see an improvement from last year.”

League play for the Big Green begins on Friday, Sept. 22 against Harvard.