By Chris Gionta
In November 2021, the Springfield College women’s volleyball team was at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. It was the Pride’s first time in the NCAA Division III Tournament in three years. Among the crowd was a Division I player with experience in the national tournament. She was on track to graduate from Towson University, and showed interest in attending graduate school along with playing volleyball at Springfield.
“It showed how invested she was in the program,” said Springfield head coach Moira Long.
Her name is Ally Townsend, and she has become a pillar of the Pride’s defense this year. Not only has she been a presence in Springfield’s back row, but the graduate student has been a guide for the young roster.
“She raises our standards because of her knowledge and because of her experience,” Long said.
Townsend grew up in central Pennsylvania, where volleyball was not the most popular sport.
“Volleyball is really not big around there — it’s really field hockey-driven,” Townsend said. “So, I think everyone was really pushed into field hockey. I tried that, I didn’t like it.”
However, she was still able to find her niche at a young age.
“Around the fifth grade, my mom found a flyer for club volleyball,” Townsend said. “And she had played in high school, so she was like ‘Let’s give it a shot’, and so I went to tryouts, and ended up loving it.”
Eventually, she went to Lower Dauphin High School in Hummelstown, Pa. Townsend earned All-State honors as a setter twice, was selected All-Conference all four years, and set the school’s all-time record in assists and service aces.
However, she had high hopes for her collegiate career, and knew she would need to undergo a positional change in order to reach her goal.
“When I was 14 or so, I had this goal to play D-I volleyball and I realized I wasn’t going to be much taller than 5’4”,” Townsend said. “So I was kind of like, ‘Let me focus on defense, stop setting, and focus more on being a defensive specialist or libero.’”
From her impressive resumé and skillset, plenty of Division I schools had interest in Townsend. After she contacted those schools, they came to her games, talked to her over the phone, and had her come to their summer camps. Through this process, she found and committed to Towson.
There, she was a part of two teams that reached the national tournament. In 2021, she gathered over 100 digs, and in Towson’s tournament game against Penn State, she had 10 digs.
She graduated from Towson after three years majoring in psychology, and had a good idea of what she wanted to do for graduate school as well as where she wanted to go.
“I knew I wanted to go into some type of sports psychology or athletic counseling ever since I was a freshman in high school,” Townsend said. “So Springfield has been on my radar since high school.”
She contacted Long early in the 2021 season, who was impressed with the skillset the libero presented.
“Throughout the season, I just watched Towson matches, and was like, ‘Oh yeah, she can totally help our team,’” Long said.
Along with her defense, Townsend’s attitude and investment in Springfield made an impression.
“In our first conversation, she asked a lot of good questions,” Long said. “She watched almost every one of our matches that she could, and she always texted me afterwards and would be like, ‘Hey, I watched your match! Great win!’”
Townsend has made a great transition with the Pride, as she has gathered 471 digs and averaged 5.35 per set. Her impressive back-row defense has earned her NEWMAC Women’s Volleyball Defensive Player of the Week three times, including twice in the first two weeks of the season.
She also provides perspective and experience that is especially vital to a young Springfield roster.
“What she brings is the knowledge of the game, volleyball IQ, her ability to see the game and teach the game,” Long said. “And I think her level of play is high so it raises the level of play around her.”
Springfield currently stands at 17-7 overall with a conference record of 7-3. Last year, Townsend attended a national tournament game for the Pride. This year, she may be a large reason why they are playing in it again.
Photo Courtesy Springfield College Athletics