By Devon Jeffreys
When the Lady Saints volleyball team left Flagler College for a trip to Babson Park, Fla., on Sept. 12, they already knew that they would be playing three matches in a span of about five hours. What they didn’t foresee was what it would take just to get there.
A trip that included two bus breakdowns, more than three hours of sitting and waiting and an arrival that was two and a half hours after the first match was scheduled to start couldn’t deter the team, who won all three matches they played.
“Coach said it,” sophomore Leah Melton said. “Our team is really laid back and everyone had a really positive attitude that day. At first we were kind of like ‘ugh’ but then we were excited to play and get out there and do the best that we could under the circumstances we had. Everyone really pulled through especially in the last game. I think we had the most fun even though it was the latest. Everyone was just cracking jokes, enjoying themselves and playing hard, so it was a good time. We made the most of it.”
The success that the Lady Saints had on that adventurous trip exhibits just how well the team has played so far this season. Boasting a 12-5 record, the Lady Saints just entered their first stretch of home games all season — their lone home game prior was an Aug. 31 3-0 victory over William Penn.
“It’s tiring because we’ve been on the road for 13-14 matches now,” Head Coach Taylor Mott said. “We’ve got quite a long home stretch coming up and I think the team is excited to actually have fans cheering for us instead of everybody cheering against us. I think they’re excited that we did well, we got through this first long stretch of being away and now we get this home stretch.”
The 9-5 record the team has posted on the road shows how the team has grown despite the loss of high caliber players after last season when the Lady Saints were unbeaten at home until the final match of the regional championship. Their 10-14 road record, however, left something to be desired.
“Our number one team goal was to be a better road team because last year we were terrible on the road,” Mott said. “I think with us not playing for postseason we have got to set goals that we can try to achieve and that was one of them, to be a better road team, and so far we’ve done pretty well.”
Despite their early season success, the Lady Saints have also made some adjustments to continue to improve. One of the biggest adjustments has been a position change for Liz Moyer, one of the team’s top outside hitters.
“We’ve got Liz Moyer playing libero right now and she was expected to be one of our starting outsides,” Mott said. “She’s just done such a good job defensively that right now we’re better with her on the floor as our libero.”
Moyer’s contributions on defense, even at the outside hitter position, facilitated the move, as she had been one of the team leaders in digs before she became libero.
“I’ve always played everywhere on the court except the setter position,” Moyer said. “I’m really excited about it because left back is my favorite position on the court. I’m just glad I can help the team out.”
The team has also gotten considerable contributions from outside hitters Justine Burkhardt and Katie Beale.
“Right now Justine Burkhardt is probably our biggest contributor offensively,” Mott said. “She gets probably twice as many swings as anybody else.
So she’s definitely having to shoulder a lot of the load and each match she steps into she handles it better and better. She started off a little shaky. I think she felt like she had something to prove, but she’s just been coming along wonderfully.”
As of Sept. 14, Burkhardt’s 4.32 kills per game average would have her ranked in the top 30 in Div. II if she were eligible and her 259 kills are 100 more than anyone else on the team.
“For Katie Beale, being a true freshman, some of the situations and the composure she’s been able to maintain, she’s been remarkable as far as being able to pass well and she’ll go up and take big swings,” Mott said.
Beale was one of Mott’s top freshman recruits and has been the biggest contributor of the true freshmen brought in. Melton has been a top blocker for the team all season and Mott said she continues to be a dominating presence at the net. Krista McAra has also come on offensively.
“I think definitely there’s been a core group that has emerged as being contributors,” Mott said. “We’ve tried to give everybody some playing time but some of our younger players just don’t have the experience yet.”
Both Mott and her players believe that the composure of this team is the key to the success so far, as well as going forward.
“I think we have good team chemistry at this point,” Mott said. “I think we have a group that just plays real hard, especially that night [in Babson Park], everything went wrong on our trip there and there was no pouting, no complaining. They were just happy to finally get over there and play. I just attribute it to a really good group of girls that are here for the right reasons. We need to just keep working hard and taking each match as an opportunity to learn and improve and taking that momentum from there.”