Springfield College women’s volleyball coach Moira Long remembers that whirlwind of an April. It commenced when she opened her e-mail and found a message from former men’s volleyball setter Mike Becker.
The Springfield alumni, after salvaging two NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships under Coach Charlie Sullivan, had departed for California and worked as an assistant coach for the Pacific Coast Volleyball Club.
“I have a player who is coming out to look at AIC and Stonehill [College],” the message read. “I told her that she really needs to look at Springfield. I think she’s great, she’d probably help [your team]. Do you want to meet with her?”
The player, Hannah Lozano, was on her way eastward. The soon-to-be college freshman had forfeited her spring break to venture on a two week cross country voyage. Her teammates on her club team were going through the recruiting process, the vast majority of seniors had already made decisions. Lozano had not, and decision-day was quickly approaching, with offers coming in from the east coast.
And so, Lozano too, entered the whirlwind. She departed her hometown of Stockton, California and began her journey.
The trip featured a plane ride from Sacramento to the Windy City of Chicago and a two and a half hour drive through miles of farmland into Iowa for a look at Ashford University. A flight to New England followed, landing Lozano in Massachusetts.
Then came the string of college visits: AIC, Stonehill, Bridgewater State University, and Sacred Heart University. Springfield, the distant, almost mythical school in which Coach Becker spoke so highly of, was her last stop. There, welcoming her, 2,990 miles from her starting point, was a campus with rich green lawns and buildings with crimson bricks, the Springfield College emblem tattooed throughout the institution, along with the women’s volleyball team.
After a tour of the grounds and a meeting with the team over lunch, Lozano decided to sign with the Springfield Pride the following day. She turned down Division I and II schools Bridgewater State, Sacred Heart, Ashford, and AIC in favor of Springfield.
“What really stuck out for me was ‘mind, body, and spirit’” said Lozano. “It works not just as a student but as a student athlete as well. The community service that goes on here, not a lot of colleges do that, and I love to give back to the community. There’s something about this campus that was different.”
“One of the things I love most about her is how she has embraced Springfield College, and the education of the whole person,” said Coach Long. “And she [has brought] that to volleyball.”
Lozano has found a second home miles away from her roots, and her new teammates are her family.
“[We] play as a family,” she said. “[We also] play really well. It’s always the technical things that we work on. I think we’re a really dynamic team, we can play multiple positions which helps a lot.”
On game days Lozano heads to the locker room, Eminem blasting on her Spotify workout list for pump up purposes. She arrives at a strident atmosphere of anticipation and hype. The captains, Kelsey McGayhey, Elise Brogan, and Kerry Purcell, yell and scream, the team conducts chants, and dances as one. Springfield, who has clinched five straight playoffs berths and own a 2015 record of 23-2, plays with a philosophy that Lozano has adopted herself.
“You’re always better than the person you were yesterday,” Lozano said. “Teams can scout us all they want, they can watch video. But the team they see [in us] is not the team we are now.”
Lozano began playing volleyball as a libero. After spending her high school career as a setter, she has returned to the libero position with the Pride. “Libero is faster paced, you have to run after spiked balls, and dig them,” Lozano said. “I love playing libero, especially when there’s a hard hitter, she hits it so hard, and you get it up. It’s an amazing feeling.”
The player who her teammates call “Little Lasagna,” has put together a rookie year complete with 3.63 digs per set (11th in the NEWMAC) and 290 digs (ninth in the NEWMAC). For each point in which her team wins, she can be seen springing up, pumping her fists every which way.
“She loves volleyball, she has a passion for it and a big presence on the court,” said Long. “When you’re the libero on the court, you are going to lead by example, but also with your voice, taking control of what she’s doing then demanding more from the players around her. It’s a step-by-step process. I expect that she’ll grow even more into that leadership role.”
“I just listen to my coaches, I train my best and learn from those above me who have been here longer,” Lozano said.
Despite having a love for Springfield College, Lozano will have to deal with some unfamiliarity in the difference of climate, and the seemingly eternal winter weather that clouds the northeast, the kind of cold that is not constant in California. “I’ve heard that it gets really bad here,” she said. “I can say that it’s going to be cold, but I don’t think I’m fully ready until it finally hits. I’ve snowboarded in 8 degree weather with 85 mile per hour winds. I’ve known the cold, but I always had that choice of going there and coming back, I’ve never lived in it.”
Regardless, she is prepared to battle through thick and thin with her team by her side, whether concerning volleyball, or the weather. “We couldn’t be happier with [Lozano]. She’s a fantastic person, and player,” Long said. “She’s a genuine, caring, empathetic, hard-working young woman, which is something we value.”
“People like to say ‘hey I’m playing Division I,’” said Lozano. “And that’s amazing: but [between] academics, people, and the atmosphere; I didn’t want to play D1 and not like the school. I didn’t want to go to school just for volleyball, I wanted that all-around factor. I’m fine with being away from [California]. I know I made the right decision. I love it here, our team is great and I couldn’t ask for anything else.”