Three years ago, the volleyball team's then-seniors set the foundation for a legacy still being shaped, for an edict was put into effect: Always win at home. Captains Jill Berkman and Kristin Hanczor, along with senior Gina Lonati, have abided by that rule and have yet to lose in Morrell Gymnasium in over 30 home games.
Entering this season, the Polar Bears had won 23 straight games at home, a streak that now stands at 32. The last home loss was on October 7, 2007—before the Peter Buck Center was created, prior to the remodeling of Morrell Gymnasium.
"As a first year, it seemed like a big deal to make the conference tournament, and if people talked about winning NESCACs, it never seemed realistic," said Berkman. "Without the girls who participated those first two years, we wouldn't be here today. They helped pave the path for us, and each year the team has gotten better."
"Last year, we were told we were the best volleyball team Bowdoin had ever had, and this year we knew we wanted to win NESCACs and go to the NCAA tournament from the beginning," she added.
The team is playing at a level unrivaled by any in program history. With a record of 16-1 (7-0 in NESCAC play), Bowdoin remains the only team unbeaten in conference play and is off to its best start ever.
Currently, the Polar Bears are in the midst of a school-record 15-game winning streak. The team has lost just 11 sets in its 17 games this year.
Head Coach Karen Corey said the wins are a result of the team's commitment to approach every match in the same manner.
The "girls have a very strong, passionate drive to win," said Corey.
"I'm always finding more we can work on and I'm not a coach that tends to be satisfied easily," she said, "I still think we have yet to reach our potential."
The program's culture has changed over Corey's six years, and this year she sees a different personal investment and a team that is more determined to work as a unit toward the same goals.
"They're unified and committed, which is nothing that I personally do," she said. "They bring that energy and passion for the game to practices, and that's what makes them strong."
"I know that every single girl on our team believes that we can win it all and that is what makes the difference," said Berkman. "When you have 13 talented players who all believe in and trust each other's skills, you're going to have success."
Last month, the team reached its 100th win with Corey as coach. She has led the team to 100 victories in the shortest amount of time of any volleyball coach in the program's 25-year history. The Polar Bears have tallied at least 17 victories each of the six years of Corey's tenure. This is the most successful stretch in the program's history.
Though the team has made the NESCAC tournament each year, it has been unable to make it out of the first round.
"We are continually struggling with our mental toughness while pushing ourselves to be better," Corey said. "We've played some good matches in the tournament, but I think we've been a little scared fighting against our opponents for all those points."
Hanczor acknowledged the challenges in being one of the best and staying at the top.
"It's hard to come into a new season after not making it past the first round of the conference tournament, and it's hard to walk into the gym and face solid opponents with a strong sense of confidence and the expectation to win," she said. "But this year, we have it. I am so honored to play with girls who are 110 percent committed to this program and who are ready to put everything on the line for our team."
One of the team's strong points is its depth on both the offensive and defensive ends.
"We are the definition of a team," said Hanczor. "Every player on the roster contributes to our success by pushing each other each day to compete and improve."
In Bowdoin's sole loss thus far, a 3-1 loss to No. 17 UMass-Boston, the team was still able to win solid points, and Corey thinks her team could have won if it had forced a fifth set.
This week, Bowdoin was named to the American Volleyball Coaches Association Top 25 D-III Poll this week for the first time ever.
"Last year was really exciting when we were ranked fifth in the D-III New England poll, but that now means less to me than the national one," said Berkman. "It is amazing to me that we have come all the way from never being ranked in New England to being ranked nationally."
Bowdoin currently leads the NESCAC in hitting percentage and service aces, thanks to Hanczor and Tory Edelman '13, respectively. The team is also second in kills and assists, and Sophia Cornew '14 ranks second individually in assists. Hanczor is ranked 16th in D-III in hitting percentage, while Cornew is ranked 20th in assists.
Success has been very much a team effort, though, and six players are averaging more than 1.87 kills per set. That being said, Hanczor has already been named the NESCAC Player of the Week twice this year, and ranks third all-time in school history with 985 kills and second with 349 blocks.
In the past two weeks, Bowdoin has played five games against five NESCAC opponents and has come away with five wins. The most impressive, however, was the 3-2 victory over Williams last Friday, which was the team's first win against the Ephs in 28 games.
Williams is the most successful program in the NESCAC, having won nine titles. The Ephs quickly won the first two sets 23-25 and 20-25, but Bowdoin rallied and won the next three sets 25-22, 25-23, and 15-8 to take the game.
"Our girls' drive to win really comes out when our backs are against the wall," said Corey. "They were in a tough spot and kept going for it with aggressive play that caught a younger Williams team off-guard and made them uncomfortable."
Tonight's game against Middlebury (11-5, 3-2 NESCAC), the reigning NESCAC champion, will likely be Bowdoin's toughest remaining opponent of the season.
The Panthers' lineup currently features the reigning NESCAC Rookie and Player of the Year.
"They have four or five girls who are fantastic in their own right, and they will run a balanced offense that will challenge us across the court," Corey said.
With three weeks left in the regular season, the three seniors, along with the rest of the team, still have ample opportunities to bring its successful run to an unforgettable close.