By Chris Gionta
After ending their 2019 campaign with five of six original starters injured and losing six consecutive games, along with not having a season of competition in 2020, the 2021 Springfield College women’s volleyball team knew nothing was guaranteed. Thus, they made sure to compete well and have fun doing it.
“It was just so fun,” said graduate student, middle blocker, and team leader in kills, Camryn Bancroft. “When I think about this season, I’m just going to think about all the fun we had, like the bus rides, the locker room…”
Part of what made the season especially enjoyable was that it was a return to competition after a long time away.
“I think I talked a lot about just the pure joy of having volleyball again,” said Springfield head coach Moira Long. “Our players just brought a lot of joy into our lives because we all absolutely love volleyball and we’re just so excited to be back on the court.”
There was reason to be joyous as a member of the Springfield women’s volleyball team in 2021 for a variety of reasons. It started with the Springfield College Invitational in Sept., where the Pride won all four games. They began the season with 11 consecutive victories which included their first victory against Babson since 2016, and after a four-game rough patch, they won seven more in a row.
They earned their way into the NEWMAC tournament but had to take a difficult route to advance. They came in as a No. 5 seed in the seven-team tournament, so their journey in the tournament began and evidently stayed on the road.
Springfield went to Emerson and defeated them in four sets, and in doing so, avenged their first loss of the season.
“I think when we went into Emerson, that match was really big because it was a little bit of redemption,” said Long.
Then, it was on to the No. 1 seeded Babson, whom they had beaten at home in the regular season. Springfield’s NEWMAC tournament performance against the Beavers was a season-defining match, with the Pride winning in a five-set affair after three of the frames were decided by three or fewer points. It also sent them to the NEWMAC final.
“We just wanted it so bad,” Bancroft said, reflecting on the team’s second victory over Babson. “Like that game was so much hype. We were just so happy. With it being five sets, it was a battle from the first point.”
The performance in the conference tournament was a large reason why they were able to get into the NCAA Division III Tournament. The Pride received a proper sendoff from the campus of Springfield College, then went to Baltimore to compete in the tournament.
When they got there, they won another competitive five-set match; this time against Rowan University. It eventually took the undefeated Johns Hopkins University to knock the Pride out of the bracket.
The 2021 season saw many great performances from a variety of individuals. Sara Labadorf collected honors from the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) Division III Region II as part of the AVCA All-Region Team. The senior setter was an elite passer, as she got over 1000 assists in a season for the second time in her career. Her 1,070 assists this year ranked in the top 25 in the nation.
Two of the main student-athletes Labadorf was passing to ended up being honored among the region’s best as well. Outside hitter Natalie Billet became the second Springfield women’s volleyball player to earn AVCA Region II First-Year of the Year. She led Springfield in points with 417.5, which were earned through 354 kills, 45 serving aces, and 35 total blocks. Billet also provided quality back-row defense with 280 digs.
The player who received the most praise was Bancroft, who earned AVCA Region II Player of the Year honors. She not only led the team in kills, but did it in an extremely efficient manner. Bancroft’s .357 hitting percentage ranked in the top 30 in the nation.
Springfield is destined for continued success, as their roster this year was comprised of 10 underclassmen on a team of 17 players.
“I know what their talent is,” said Bancroft. “And I just can’t wait to see them get better every year.”
Photo: Springfield Athletics