Her eyes were wide open. Nothing could break the laser focus of Springfield College’s right side hitter. She led her team in an intense warm-up for the first time since suffering a left-ankle injury. She slammed a ball downward over the net before confidently jogging to the back of the line. Fired up, she screamed and received high fives from all of her teammates while Head Coach Moira Long paced on the sideline bouncing a volleyball behind her back and between her legs mentally preparing for one of the final regular season games.
The referee blew on his whistle signifying the end of warm ups. She jogged to the bench. One maroon, Nike Elite sock ran up her right calf, while the other was encapsulated by a thick, black ankle brace. She snagged her white, long-sleeve jersey that has the number three tattooed on the back off of a chair, and led her team into the locker room.
Moments later, the Pride came storming out one-by-one ready to take on Amherst who at the time was ranked second in the New England region. Last in line was the senior, the captain, the woman who had just put her jersey on for one of the final times in her career: Kelsey McGayhey.
McGayhey joined the Springfield College volleyball program in 2012 as part of Long’s first recruiting classes. Like most freshman, McGayhey was nervous to begin her journey.
Laughing, she said, “I was terrified of my freshman preseason because when I was on my recruiting trip, I was so intimidated by the way this team played. I was a little freshman and I had no idea what to expect.”
McGayhey has come a long way since fearing seniors and just going with the flow of things. After three standout seasons, McGayhey entered her fourth and final season ready to go.
“Preseason this year was really surreal. It’s hard to believe the four years are already coming to an end,” she said. “When I came into the gym for the first time this year, I had nothing to lose. I was going to go balls to the wall.”
After an unwarranted and surprising exit from the 2014 NEWMAC tournament, the Pride had something to prove. The loss to a less talented Coast Guard team did not sit well. It was a game that Springfield should have cruised through. It was a complete debacle according to Long.
McGayhey angrily reminisces the game. Just thinking about it makes her cringe. However, it also provided a lot of motivation to be even better this year.
She said, “When you lose something that’s so important to you, it makes you want it even more the next year. So this year we’re coming guns blazing, no mercy.”
McGayhey isn’t the only fierce and unsatisfied competitor. Matter of fact, the entire team is relentless. However, perhaps none more than junior middle Lauren Holt.
Holt attended Granby Memorial High School where she was, according to Long, recruited by high-profile Division I schools. Long knew she was getting a gift when Holt committed to Springfield College.
“When we saw Lauren play for the first time, we knew she would be something very, very special,” said Long.
Holt has been nothing short of Long’s expectations. This year has been her best as she is currently ranked second in the country in blocks per set and hitting percentage. It is a scary sight to see a setter tap a ball to Holt. She launches high into the air and throws down a lethal swing of her arm. Normally, the ball slams into the opponent’s side court at an unreal velocity.
Long struggled to find the right words to describe Holt. It seemed as if no words were fitting enough to accurately portray the star. After a long pause, Long said, “She’s [Lauren] just so darn good. I truly believe she is the best middle in the country”
Holt, like McGayhey, loves to compete and accepts nothing but winning. She loves to hate opponents and she lives for opponents hating her.
“We hate all other teams, and things that happened last year just made us hate all the teams even more,” Holt said with a very serious tone of voice.
McGayhey has adopted a role as leader in the quest to beat these hated teams. She is very vocal, passionate, and emotional on the court. Her powerful hits and prolific blocks spark a lot of energy and it becomes malignant, spreading to every player on the court. Once being that scared freshman, she has done a great job of helping the current rookies adjust.
Freshman libero Hannah Lozano said, “Kelsey is always pushing me to get better. She is an amazing player with great leadership skills and she always has the right thing to say.”
Although McGayhey doesn’t like to think about her special career coming to an end, it is inevitable. When she leaves, someone else is going to have to lead and pick up the slack. Holt is more than ready to take on that role and Long has more confidence in her than anyone.
“Lauren [Holt] is already leading,” said Long. “I can’t get over her growth as a leader and so much of it is her communication.”
McGayhey knows that the time is going to come. She is going to go through the pregame rituals for the final time. She is going to have a final kill, a final block, a final memory. Hopefully that memory will involve a National Championship, but even if it all comes to an end before she would like it to, she has mements that will last forever.
“Let me tell you… my team is going to be with me for the rest of my life,” McGayhey said following a moment revolved around gathering emotions. She sat with her hands folded, fingers interlocked acting as an ottoman for her chin. She solemnly stared as thoughts raced around her head and her heart. “Coach long too,” she continued. “She [Long] has been one of the most influential people that has ever stepped in my life. I am a completely different person than I was four years ago and I credit my coach and my team for that. Every memory I’ve made with my team and my coach leaves with me.”
But it’s not over yet. McGayhey is the first person to say that. She focuses on the moment she is currently in. Right now, that moment is the NEWMAC tournament. The tournament where it all went wrong last year. But there is another chance for McGayhey to win what slipped right through her fingers last year; and boy is she excited.
“We will win. And we will do it in dominating fashion,” she said with a determined, confident stare.
As simple as it may sound, that’s the motto for this team. They want to beat everybody and they want to beat everybody badly. A lot of the competitiveness comes from Coach Long. All the players have to do is buy in.
“We want to make everyone cry,” said Long. “I want the opponent to step off of the court and I want them to cry because we have demolished them. That’s the expectation that we have here.”
The Pride defeated WPI in the quarter final match on Tuesday and if all else goes according to plan, McGayhey and company will take on MIT for the NEWMAC championship. MIT beat the Pride 3-2 in the regular season, and that loss did not make Lauren Holt too happy. She and her teammates want to destroy MIT and raise the trophy high as MIT solemnly lurks off the court.