Last weekend, the Bowdoin volleyball team traveled down to Wellesley, Mass. to compete in the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships. The Polar Bears took down Worcester State (23-11) and Johns Hopkins (22-8) to advance to the Sweet Sixteen, where they fell to regional hosts Babson (26-9) and ended their season with a program-best 29-2 record.
The defeat came as a bit of an upset, as Bowdoin was the No. 1 seed in its regional bracket and ranked No. 23 in the nation, but the match was closely contested as each set was decided by fewer than five points.
“I feel like we performed well, and Babson just played outstanding. I mean I was just so impressed with what they were able to put together,” said Head Coach Erin Cady. “And we were right there with them. Even though you got the set scores that it was 3-0, in the game it never felt like we were losing.”
Babson hasn’t lost a single set at home all season and that dominant home-court atmosphere came into play in Sunday’s match.
“You could definitely tell that there is a whole bunch of energy from their side,” said Kate Kiser ’21. “I definitely think [hosting] plays a huge advantage just because when we won NESCACs here in our gym, you play more together because it’s not just your team, it’s the whole school coming to support you.”
Exiting before the Elite Eight war doesn’t take away from the immense success the team has had this season. In addition to claiming the NESCAC title, the team has garnered a number of individual accolades, including NESCAC Coach of the Year, NESCAC Player of the Year, NESCAC Defensive Player of the Year and All-NESCAC team honors.
This week, Lisa Sheldon ’19 was named to the All-American Second Team for the second consecutive year, and Kiser secured her first All-American honor with a Third Team position.
“It’s truly an incredible honor and I’m really humbled, but it’s not just an award for me because I couldn’t get the assists that I got if I didn’t have the passers and if I didn’t have the hitters to give to get me the kills. I’m so proud of the girls that I got to play with this year. So it’s not just an award, it’s an award for all of us,” said Kiser.
The team views all of these awards as team awards, as each player has a huge role in the overall performance of the team, according to Cady.
“What really developed in our program and our culture [this year] was this idea that everyone is important in our program,” said Cady. “And [that is] greatly due to our seniors … There were some times I let [Khelsea Gordon ’19] take over timeout speeches because she really spoke to something else that’s important, that everyone matters and everyone can play a role.”
The senior leadership on the team has also been a key factor in the program’s success this season, especially in inspiring and motivating the team to recognize its potential and to aim high in its goals.
“Our seniors kept on reiterating the idea of their freshman year; they made it to the Elite Eight and they just want that feeling for us. I think we played having that in mind and that goal in mind because we knew that we had potential to be great,” said Kiser.
While touting loftier goals can be the downfall of many teams, the players didn’t let that deter them from being ambitious. They balanced shooting for their end goals while still focusing on what they needed to do in every moment.
“They had this major goal, so then when they’re in practice on a Monday, they’re motivated by something bigger, but the other thing is when they’re in practice on a Monday, they’re focusing on what they need to focus on,” said Cady. “Something they did phenomenally throughout the season was each game had a meaning, and they would focus on just that game. That’s a huge reason that we found success this year.”
Now that same ambition will be carried into next season and the team is only hungry for more.
“For the same reason that our seniors were so driven, I think, once we made it to the Sweet Sixteen, next season we want to do that and better,” said Kiser.