By Joe Arruda
SPRINGFIELD — The Springfield College women’s volleyball team (6-1) is in the midst of their third week sitting at No. 2 in the NEWMAC standings. After a 24-8 campaign last year, the future is dazzling for the Pride. Though the group is young, featuring five freshmen, seven sophomores, and just four upperclassmen, they have proven through seven games that they have potential to continue the program’s upward trend of success.
Despite a tough early schedule, the Pride have impressed in the onset of their season. Their only loss came in a five-set battle against Stockton University in their second game of the NYU Invitational.
“I think what was great this weekend was we played Skidmore who was very good defensively, and then we played Stockton who was outstanding, a tough five setter but we ended up losing,” Pride head coach Moira Long said.
“But, what was great was that we go into the NYU match against a very talented, and very big team, their front row was 6’3”, 6’2”, and 6’1” at one point, but it was great because we just responded and took something away from the match at Stockton, and realized we need to execute a little bit better in set five, and we did.”
The squad responded to the tough five-set loss with an impressive five-set victory in the same day, handing the New York University Bobcats their first loss of the season.
“I am very pleased with their development so far,” Long said. “We actually have played a really tough schedule so far, I couldn’t be happier. They’re a pretty good group in terms of volleyball IQ, They are very consistent emotionally which I think helps in volleyball.”
Players to Watch
After losing three starters from last season due to graduation, the opportunity to become a star has spread open for this year’s team. Featuring just three seniors on the roster, the 2019 Pride will rely on the leadership of their younger student-athletes.
Six games into the season, junior middle blocker Camryn Bancroft has proven that she is willing and able to become a force on the front line. She has already been named NEWMAC Women’s Volleyball Offensive Athlete of the Week for two consecutive weeks.
“Camryn’s been great. She worked really hard, and she’s grown a lot in her first two years. She’s been consistent emotionally, mentally, and physically. She’s a presence on the court,” Long said.
Bancroft is just one of many players who can be expected to make a dent in the Pride’s success this season. She leads the team with 100 kills on an impressive .509 clip, followed by sophomore Demi Spanos and senior Bridget Walsh who have collected 67 and 57 kills, respectively.
Returning to the Pride after missing last season is senior libero Anagabrielle Sanchez who compiled over 1,000 digs after her first two seasons with Springfield. Sanchez was named NEWMAC First Team All-Conference, AVCA New England All-Region team, and was awarded the New England Co-Freshman of the Year after her first season in 2016-17.
“It’s great to have [her] back, she’s a great person and we’re just super excited with the entire team that we have,” said Long. “Our three core values are trust, communication and relentlessness. I think Ana has just done a great job of getting herself in with our team, building relationships and connections. That’s the case with all of our players, so really I think everyone has just developed those three core values and we work on them every day.”
The depth on this Pride roster is noteworthy, with young returning talent helping to lead the way. Sophomore setter Sara Labadorf, coming off of an excellent freshman campaign in which she tallied over 1,000 assists, has returned to directing the attack.
“There is just not one person, I know Camryn [Bancroft]’s stats stand out, but ultimately I think she’d tell you that our defense is so good and so strong that it just makes her job easy. We just have a very talented, very versatile group,” Long explained.
“You can see in our box scores that we can kind of match up with different lineups and I think everybody is always ready to play. I think that is probably the strength of our team and that is probably one of the messages we had this preseason; just that we are super versatile and everybody’s gotta be ready.”
The first two weeks have been a test of strength for the Pride, and they have passed that test by winning five of their first six against very tough opponents. Their ability to lose, learn, and respond positively was on show in their emphatic five-set victory against NYU.
After the Pride fell in the NEWMAC Championship Game and their season ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament, a bright future was promising. Long, entering her ninth season at the helm, emphasized the importance of relationships on and off the court in preseason.
Long said, “Ultimately every year is a different year, we had an outstanding Spring and really focused on our connections and communication. That’s how you get better in any relationship, and a team is a relationship.”
She addressed her team with a family-like message. They are ready to win, and they are ready to win together; a single unit.
“The message this year was that every time we step on the court, we need to keep in mind those three core values that we have: How is it that everyday we are going to have purpose? How is it that every day we are going to trust one another? How is it that we’re going to be relentless in everything that we do?,” Long preached.
“Those three things are really important, and that is really just the message; if we have those three things, we’re going to be successful. Ultimately, we know how to play volleyball. We can pass and we need to improve, but I think ‘never be satisfied’ is probably the message, let’s continue to get better with every touch of the ball. This is a pretty good group for that.”
Photo courtesy of Daniela Detore