The volleyball team celebrates their win over Oglethorpe University. Photo courtesy of Olivia Nichols (C’21).
By Olivia Nichols
After the Sewanee volleyball team’s conference semifinal loss against Berry College, silence filled the locker room, sweaty and exhausted bodies sat with their heads down in a close circle. This silence was powerful; what was there to say? The historic, magical, and emotional season was over for us. There was no more “next time we can beat them,” no more, “we can do better,” and no more chances to encourage one another to fight harder for the next game.
In an effort to break the stillness in the room, middle-blocker, Macy Gardella (C’20), told teammates, “I’m just really proud of us.” At that comment, I could hear sniffles of noses and see the tears begin to fall from our faces. Overcome with emotion, we agreed with her.
She later expressed, “I guess I just honestly was shocked, because I remember thinking that I really thought we were gonna win. For the first time as a Sewanee volleyball player, I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re actually going to do this,’ and then being in the locker room, it was just so quiet, and I was so sad, but I didn’t want to show everyone, so that’s why I said something. I felt like I had to let them know that even though we didn’t get there, it’s the farthest we’d ever gotten.”
She was right. Yes, the season was over, but what we didn’t fully realize was the immense impact our team had made for not only the Sewanee volleyball program but also for Sewanee athletics as a whole. This season marked the best record the program has seen since 1999. At 20 wins and eight losses, our team made a name for ourselves not only in the conference but in the region and nation as well.
On October 18, it was announced that for the first time in program history, the Sewanee volleyball team ranked fifth in the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) South Region. In addition to our ranking, we had two freshmen receive national recognition, helping put Sewanee’s name on the national scale.
Ellie Pedersen (C’22) was named National Freshman of the Week (non-Division I) by prepvolleyball.com and Lilly Reilly (C’22) was named National Player of the Week for Division III by AVCA.
Both of these awards are incredibly prestigious, with Reilly being given her award in the same week as All-American Division I Stanford University player Kathryn Plummer, who is recognized as one of the best players in Division I and a future candidate for the Olympic team.
Pedersen was also named to the AVCA South Region Honorable Mention team. In terms of conference recognition, three members of the team were named to the All-SAA Conference First Team. Constance Connolly (C’20), Destiny Stewart (C’21), and Pedersen received the award at the conference tournament banquet hosted by Berry College on Friday before our quarter-final win over Rhodes College later that afternoon.
Adding to Pedersen’s list of awards, she was also named the Conference Newcomer of the Year which was the second in a row for the Sewanee program, with Stewart receiving the recognition for the 2017 season.
Even the game ending loss against Berry College was historic. For the first time in the program’s history of playing against Berry, the game went to five sets, the most for a volleyball match. Prior to this point, Berry swept Sewanee in almost every match-up. With this momentum, we’re looking to move forward to another incredible season.
With the loss of just one senior, Peyton Parent (C’19), it’s looking like we’ll be able to comfortably carry over the energy, chemistry, and power that we developed during this season.
As captain, Connolly commented on the season, “I was disappointed that we lost, but I am so proud to be a part of this team. We have come so far this year, and we truly showed that with our conference tournament performances. I can’t wait to see what next season has in store because we gave a preview this season.”