In an exciting end-of-season twist, Eastern Mennonite University’s women’s volleyball team made it back into the ODAC Tournament after a ten-year hiatus. “It was like we made this small impact on the school and athletics,” reflected senior and co-captain Jasmine Johnson, “and it was just an overall awesome feeling and thing to experience.”
The team got into the eight-team tournament after coming out on top of a four way tie. It was a nail-biter until the end.
“I had sort of written off the chance of us getting in,” said head coach Carrie Bert. “We didn’t know for sure until the very last Friday of conference season.”
Junior and co-captain Maria Yoder highlighted all of the behind-the-scenes work that went into her team’s success this season.
“Our team put in a ton of work in the offseason to prepare for the season, and many of the girls on the team would go to extra skill sessions with our assistant coach that weren’t required or show up early to get more reps before practice,” Yoder said.
“We had to figure out how to win,” said Coach Bert, “after years of EMU being in kind of the assumed bottom of the ODAC.”
This year’s seniors played a big role in overcoming that mental block.
“[They] have taught the rest of us that they have fight and they’re competitive enough, and some of my the girls that I’ve recruited since have bought into that,” Coach Bert explained. “And so this particular group collectively has a great desire to win and doesn’t think it’s worth playing if they’re not trying their hardest.”
“With every sport and season, it is always a crazy roller coaster ride,” Johnson said. “There were many different highs and lows for this season. Some highs were taking Roanoke and Virginia Wesleyan to five games. Even though we lost both, it still showed the potential of our team and how amazing we could be.”
Coach Bert is proud of how much her athletes have grown over the course of this season and their years at EMU.
“The end of the season proved that they found a spot where they had confidence in themselves,” Coach Bert said. “Trusting each other and having confidence in each other and the seniors and some of the juniors leading [was essential].”
The Royals were knocked out in the first round of the ODAC Tournament, losing to top-seeded and eventual champion Randolph-Macon.
“And yet, how exciting to have that opportunity,” said Coach Bert. “And that’s what I told them [the team] at the end. I said we need to think about this in terms of winning and learning, not winning and losing, because we’ve been given the opportunity to be in this place… and we need to thank the seniors for building this program into something where this is the expectation now.”
“I hope that we don’t lose our desire to improve,” Yoder said. “The seniors on our team this year have encouraged the rest of the team both vocally and by example to expect more from ourselves. I hope this attitude is continued by the juniors and underclassmen next year.”
Johnson is excited for the team’s future as well. “I have such high hopes for these remaining players and players coming in,” she said. “They have such an amazing foundation and team chemistry. I’m really excited to see what they can do next year. I think they can do amazing things with this program and help create a name for EMU women’s volleyball.”
“They’re smart, they’re athletic, they’re competitive,” Coach Bert said. “We were often outsized [this year], and yet we didn’t always let that stop us.”
Johnson is graduating this year, but she will take all of her experiences with her team with her when she goes.
“I don’t know where these four years have gone, but playing volleyball has been the highlight and light of those years,” Johnson said. “Four years ago, I would tell myself to enjoy and cherish every moment I had on the court and to remember the amazing relationships I’ve made in the volleyball world. I couldn’t imagine my life without volleyball, and it has helped shape me into the person I am today.”
Coach Bert is graduating five seniors this season, each one a four-year member of the team.
“Yeah, this is a group I’m really going to miss,” she said.
“I’ve loved playing with this group of people,” Johnson said, “and I’m excited to see where they take this program in the years coming.”