Senior Spring: Paige Caridi ’16 reflects on team’s turnaround
Hailing from Austin, Texas, Dartmouth volleyball co-captain Paige Caridi ’16 first started playing the sport because of her height. Although she also tried tennis, swimming, track and soccer, volleyball soon became her passion.
After leading a successful volleyball career as the captain of her competitive club team and winning numerous volleyball accolades, Caridi had to make a difficult decision about college. While many of her teammates chose larger Division I programs, Caridi decided to prioritize academics, visiting five of the Ivy League schools. Although Dartmouth was initially low on the list due to its location in rural New Hampshire, her visit to campus changed her mind.
“I was set on using volleyball to get me to the best school, as opposed to going for volleyball,” Caridi said. “We flew in [on Cape Air to Dartmouth] and it was amazing. I had never seen so many trees and it was like a little wonderland in the woods. Since I’ve gotten on campus, I’ve loved it.”
Despite the drastic move from Texas to New Hampshire, Caridi found the transition relatively smooth. She also adjusted to academic life and even had better grades during the season due to heightened time management habits.
Although just a freshman, Caridi quickly gained a prominent role on the team. She was the only member of the team who appeared in all 84 sets and led the team with 261 digs. However, the team went just 2-22, and 1-13 in the Ivy League. Caridi noted that she lost more in her first year at Dartmouth than in her entire volleyball career prior. Despite the losses, she remained optimistic and looked forward to the challenge of rejuvenating the program.
“I knew that the program was kind of broken coming in, and that was another reason that lured me here,” Caridi said. “I liked the idea of turning the program around.”
Although the team struggled, the season provided a useful lesson on persistence that would help spark a dramatic turnaround in the coming years.
“It was hard,” Caridi said. “We felt pretty helpless. No matter how much practice or [how] hard we were trying, we just weren’t getting the wins. It helped us realize that we had to work harder to overcome the long lull, and that it wasn’t just going to suddenly turn around.”
Following the tough 2012 season, the team has had a dramatic turnaround. This year, the team was a legitimate contender for the Ivy League title, tied for first place with Harvard University and Princeton University with just one game remaining, but ultimately fell in the fifth set thriller against Yale University.
“The whole process has been really great and rewarding, and it has ended on a positive note,” Caridi said. “Now we are competing to win the whole Ivy League, while before we were competing just to get one win. We’ve come full circle.”
Teammate and fellow captain Kaira Lujan ’16 echoed a similar sentiment on the development of a winning culture.
“When we came in our freshman year, there was a lot of resistance to change [with the new coach],” Lujan said. “Over time, our class really helped shape the culture. With each incoming class and more athletic and higher level volleyball players coming into the program, the team developed a winning culture. It wasn’t an easy journey, but we all benefited from the experience.”
Through her time on the volleyball team, Caridi has earned the respect of her fellow teammates and served as captain in both her junior and senior years. During junior year, her role focused more on logistics, while this year she acted more as a floor captain. The team’s leadership — Caridi, Lujan and fellow co-captain Kayden Cook ’16 — played an instrumental role in this year’s contention for the title.
“The three captains worked really well together,” Lujan said. “When we have a team meeting, all three of us would be able to express our thoughts and what needed to happen. Having different perspectives was very valuable.”
Caridi’s consistent diligence and determination has been an important guide for the rest of the team to follow.
“She’s super committed to the team [and] always striving to get better,” Lujan said. “She’s always pushing herself in the weight room, leading by example and setting high standards for the team.”
Throughout her career, Caridi feels very fortunate to have avoided serious injuries. Several teammates every year have been plagued with shoulder and back injuries due to the repetitive motions required in volleyball.
Looking back, Caridi found that two moments stand out in particular. During freshman fall, the team defeated Harvard University in its first Ivy League game of the season. The stunning victory initially generated an optimistic attitude going into the season, but the team ended up losing nearly every game thereafter. Her second moment came this year, when the team made a dramatic comeback against Columbia University after being down 14 to 11 in the fifth set. Caridi added that anytime Dartmouth beat Harvard or Yale could be considered a high point. Her greatest memories, however, came off the court.
“The highlight for me from playing volleyball is the people I’ve met,” Caridi said. “Through my fifteen years playing volleyball, my teammates have all become my best friends, and I can still go to them. It’s so different to get to know them on a different level. ”
Outside of volleyball, Caridi majored in government with a minor in markets, management and the economy and is planning on working in finance in New York next year. She looks forward to the challenges of a new job, and depending on her hours, hopes to continue to play volleyball as a hobby in the Chelsea Piers league.
“I want to get in my foot in the door, learn as much as possible and really challenge myself,” Caridi said. “That’s what attracted me to my field, because I’ve always been competitive. Losing volleyball, this new challenge helps fill the void.”