Volleyball team has strong opening with first-year coach

by Matt Yuen | 9/19/16 12:00am

In just a mere three weeks, Dartmouth’s women’s volleyball team (6-4) has already accumulated half as many wins as it did last season (12-11). The Big Green closed out five of their six wins thus far in straight sets, already beating their 2015 record of sweeping only two games. With such a promising start and 15 matches left in this season, the team is currently on par with a promising trajectory. The question thus remains: why is the women’s volleyball season finding success so early on in this season compared to last year’s?

In 2015, the Big Green fell two points short from tying for the Ivy League championship. Once again, obtaining the title remains a realistic goal for the team. This year, the new recruits are not the only new change introduced to the team. Following the departure of Erin Lindsey, the team also has a new coaching staff, including head coach Gilad Doron and assistant coaches Eyal Zimet and Tara Hittle.

“People [on the team] are taking this change as a refresh on volleyball,” co-captain Emily Astarita ’17 said. “Fresh and new things are always exciting.”

And the differences between Doron’s and Lindsey’s coaching style are already starting to emerge.

“[This year] is a little less analytical and little more like learning the game for ourselves and sort of teaching through understanding the game,” Astarita said. “Instead of just saying, ‘You need to be in this position at this moment,’ it’s more like, ‘Just think about where you should be and what makes sense in certain plays.’”

Doron’s valued qualities can be simplified to four Rs: respectful, responsible, resourceful and resilient. The athletes should be respectful toward each other, the community, the teachers and the staff, he said. They should be responsible for their health and academics as well as resourceful and get help as needed to balance academic and athletic priorities. Lastly, they must be resilient when dealing with shortcomings and grow from these experiences.

“We try to preach every day small little things of what it takes to be a successful person. Period,” Doron said. “And along the way, a successful volleyball player at Dartmouth.”

Doron’s vision for the team culture is starting to resonate with the players, with Astarita crediting the coaching staff with creating a positive vibe.

So far, the team has the wins to back up the new approach’s efficacy. But being able to respond to losses is equally important. On Sept. 9, the Big Green suffered a decisive 3-0 loss against the United States Military Academy at Leede Arena in its first match of the Dartmouth Invitational. But rather than allow the loss influence its performance in the rest of the match-ups, the women’s volleyball team regrouped and defeated Central Connecticut State University, 3-2, and Niagara University and the University of Hartford in straight sets.

Co-captain Kaira Lujan ’16 said the women’s ability to overcome defeat stemmed from being able to show composure in tight situations.

“You’re not going into any match with the feeling like, ‘This is a match we can win’ or, ‘This is a match we’re going to lose,’” Lujan said.

Doron’s goals and aspirations are shaking up Dartmouth’s culture with athletics as a whole.

Lujan said Doron has been pushing to increase the amount of enthusiasm among fans at games.

“He’s all about getting people to games and making it a fun place to be,” Lujan said. “I don’t think there has been as much focus on cultivating that before.”

Up next, the Big Green will open conference play with a match against Harvard University, the 2015 Ivy League Champions, at Leede Arena on Friday. The game will start at 7 p.m.