Volleyball captain Paige Caridi ’16 leads revival of program
Paige Caridi ’16, who hails from Austin, Texas, said that in her hometown, “volleyball is a hub — everyone plays.” Since she started playing at only eight years old, volleyball has been an integral part of Caridi’s life. At age nine, she began playing select volleyball with her local club, where she played for two years.
Volleyball was not always the only sport in her life, though, and when Caridi was young, she also swam and played soccer. When it eventually came down to choosing between sports, Caridi said she disliked that when playing soccer she was stuck in the goalie position because of her height. She meshed with the quick pace of volleyball, though, and said she kept playing because she could maintain good ball control even if she could not hit the hardest.
Caridi attended Westlake High School where she was a three-year member of the school’s volleyball team and a member of the track and field team. She played for Austin Junior Volleyball’s top Mizuno team, which won the 2011 USA Volleyball National Championship and took third in 2010 USA Volleyball Junior Olympics. She also played at the 2010 USA Beach Volleyball U19 Championship, where she placed second. Before coming to Dartmouth, she was named a Prep Volleyball All-American and Academic All-American and Under Armour All-American honorable mention.
“When I started playing select volleyball it was a huge time commitment,” Caridi said. “We were traveling every single weekend, and we were playing teams even from different countries, which was cool.”
After a successful high school career, Caridi set her sights on playing volleyball against Division I competition. She said she knew for a long time that she wanted to play at the collegiate level, and once she starting getting better at the sport, she wanted to pursue it further. Most of the people on her team also move on to the collegiate level, she said, and though she was the last to commit, “the pieces just kind of fell into place.”
Although she planned to play in college, Caridi’s volleyball career was not always pointed toward New Hampshire. Initially, she considered playing beach volleyball. After ruling out the option that would have required a more temperate climate, an opportunity to receive an Ivy League education and leave her mark on the program set Caridi’s sights on Dartmouth.
“I actually wasn’t convinced I wanted to go to Dartmouth at first,” Caridi said. “I didn’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere, but as soon as I got on campus, I knew I was at the right place. I loved the vibe, and the coach really gave me the sense that I would be able to contribute to the team my freshman year, which I really wanted.”
Now, four years later, Caridi and the Big Green have the Ivy League title in their sights. Caridi believes the team’s current success — Dartmouth is 9-7 overall and 6-1 in the Ivy League — comes from years of growth. In 2012, Caridi’s freshmen year, the team finished 1-13 in conference and 2-22 overall. The team saw improvement over the next two years, finishing 4-10 in conference in 2013 and 2014. In her senior year, Caridi and Dartmouth have finally seemed to put the pieces together and stand atop the conference leaderboard halfway through the Ivy League season.
“I think we’re just so bought in to who we are as a team now,” Caridi said. “When it comes to fight or flight, we’re definitely fighters now. I think in the past we might have been a little more flight, and that piece — that transition — has been what’s helping us win really close matches.”
Dartmouth will take on Harvard University this Friday, a game that could prove critical for their Ivy title dreams. Just last weekend, the Big Green had a major five-set victory against Columbia University in what Caridi described as “a nail-biter.”
“We were clearly at the disadvantage [in the fifth set], but I don’t think it went through anyone’s mind that we were going to lose that match, and that’s something unique that has been this year that I don’t think has been there in previous years,” Caridi said.
It was only fitting that when the team needed it most, Caridi put together one of her best nights of the season against Columbia, registering a season-high 26 kills to go along with 11 digs.
“During that match, [Caridi] stuck to the game plan and she kept playing hard the whole match, going for difficult angles and shots and tooling people down the line,” teammate Emily Astarita ’17 said. “It’s a brave and aggressive play to make, and she kept at it the whole match. She was really successful in scoring for us because she was taking advantage of her opportunities.”
Caridi has been a leader and cornerstone of the volleyball program throughout her Dartmouth career. As a freshman, Caridi was the only member of the team to appear in all 84 sets, and led the team with 261 digs. The past two years she has also served as one of the team’s captains.
“Starting her career at Dartmouth [with a 2-22 season] and ending up where we are right now is a true testament to her skill and her leadership since she’s been captain for the last two years,” teammate Julia Lau ’17 said, attributing Caridi’s success to her strong work ethic and “desire to be the best.”
As her Dartmouth career draws to an end, Caridi has the chance to end it with a bang.
“Since I’m a senior, this is my last chance [to win the Ivy League title],” Caridi said. “It hasn’t always been easy, but I’d would say we’re resilient. Being good, having a good game doesn’t mean you can’t be better, and that is something the team has all bought into.”