Carleton women’s volleyball’s rather tumultuous season came to an end in three sets at regionally-ranked St. Olaf (12-25, 22-25, 9-25) last Friday night. The match was a clash of two teams trending in the complete opposite direction. While the Oles find themselves square in the middle of the MIAC playoffs, the Knights will head into the long winter with an uncertain future.
The Knights officially finish the year with a 6-20 overall record. They won two games in MIAC play, and came close to winning more, yielding a 2-9 conference record. Their most-winning arena was their home, West Gym, where they came out victorious three times including the MIAC opener against Macalester. Though they earned a 10th-place finish in the MIAC standings, they were only four games out of a playoff spot. Thanks to a generous six-team playoff format, with just a few instances of good luck (including closing out a hotly-contested match at home against St. Mary’s) the Knights could’ve had a real chance at squeezing into the playoffs.
Though the record may lead some to believe otherwise, there certainly were positives throughout the course of the season. They were tested with high competition, as MIAC teams have come to expect, with matches against four ranked opponents. Three of those four were MIAC matches. The best stretch of games came from September 18th to September 21st when they won three of four matches, including the MIAC opener. Following the win against Macalester, the Knights travelled down to Cedar Rapids, Iowa and defeated Coe College and Ripon College. They also defeated Martin Luther College and Hamline.
Part of the reason for this stretch of success was the freshman class, who contributed consistent time on the floor. “Coming in as a freshman, I wasn’t expecting myself or any of the others to get a lot of time, so that was a happy surprise,” freshman middle back Naiya Karl said. “It feels really good to be able to contribute on the court and I think we’re all thankful for the opportunity to go out there and do that. Jancyn, Kailey and Alexis are all crazy-talented and I’m glad everyone was able to see that this year. It gives me more confidence going into next season because we will be going into it with a lot of experience under our belts.”
The Knights are only graduating two seniors, libero Celeste Chen and middle back Olivia Powell. Though both had significant roles this season, the continuity the team will have next season is going to be advantageous. Though the next recruiting class is yet to be solidified, the roster size will undoubtedly increase with just two players leaving the program. The Knights were a young team this season anyways, with nine of their fourteen players being underclassmen. Given how much underclassmen were able to contribute this season, the future of the team looks positive.
They find themselves in a unique situation. Other successful MIAC squads will be graduating far more players who contributed consistently all year long. Their play led to wins, but also kept younger players off the floor. With contributing freshmen returning for their second season, they’re well positioned to take advantage of the large playoff field next season.
“I think the biggest positive from this season was how we developed a really strong team culture and kind of set a standard for years to come. Even when we didn’t win we stuck together as a team and had fun. I am super excited for the future of the team,” sophomore setter Inger Shelton remarked.
Though the numbers weren’t in their favor this season, the future appears bright. Only time will tell how Head Coach Jacki Smith will utilize the tools at her disposal for success next season, but every indication shows she will guide the team to a winning year. All eyes turn to next fall.