Volleyball Advances into ECAC Tournament

The Swarthmore College volleyball team earned its fourth consecutive ECAC Tournament berth on Monday. In a testament to their successful season, the Garnet (19-6, 8-2 Centennial Conference) earned the third seed in the eight-team tournament, meaning that they played host to sixth-seeded Delaware Valley (17-9) on Wednesday night. The volleyball team will join field hockey and both men’s and women’s soccer in the postseason, an achievement that speaks to the growing strength of Swarthmore’s athletic teams.

Swarthmore enters the tournament looking to end their season on a positive note after Johns Hopkins ended the team’s hopes of a Conference championship by beating the Garnet 3-0 on Saturday. Though the Blue Jays overmatched Swarthmore for the second time this season, head coach Harleigh Chwastyk was impressed by her team’s tenacity. Despite acknowledging that Hopkins is “a very strong offensive team,” Chwastyk emphasized the continued effort throughout a difficult match, calling her team “relentless.”

A similarly relentless, fearless attitude has characterized a young Garnet team throughout a record-setting season. The team earned its best finish (third place) and conference record (8-2) in program history. With a win on Wednesday night, the team would achieve the program’s third straight 20-win season.

The fact that this year’s team managed to overcome the loss of several key players from last season is partially a result of the impressive play of several underclassmen. In particular, captain Allie Coleman ’13 spoke about the play of setter Sam Dubois ’16 and libero Madison Heppe ’16, praising the duo for “having bought in to the program” from the start.

Due especially to the team’s youth, the leadership from lone seniors on the team, Coleman and fellow captain Kat Montemurro ’13, has been critical. Both seniors have been preparing for their roles this year since their freshman year. Chwastyk lauded the two for being “leaders since they stepped on campus” and for being “driven, intense people, who knew what they wanted to do since they came here.”

Montemurro cited the intimate team atmosphere as being crucial to her development during her four years in the program, saying that, “it’s been an amazing experience to be part of the team that turned the program around. Coach [Chwastyk] always says that you are part of the Swarthmore Volleyball family for life, so this has been an incredible experience in the way of building new and lasting friendships. I’ll miss competing at this level and playing for my team and the school.”

The duo has been a part of a program that has had a historic improvement over the past four years. For the first time ever, the Swarthmore volleyball made four consecutive conference playoffs, and it is no coincidence that Coleman and Montemurro have been a part of this turnaround. The two play complementary positions — Coleman is a setter and Montemurro an outside hitter — and have developed “a very unique chemistry as a pair,” according to their coach.

When Coleman set the career assist record in the Hopkins match, she was quick to share the credit with her teammates, pointing out that her individual success would have been impossible if it was not matched with wins. “The assists are a good reflection on the team,” she said. “It means we have good passing, lots of kills and most importantly lots of wins. I am really happy to be a part of that.”

As the two seniors enter their final week as student-athletes, they took an opportunity to reflect on some of the highlights of what has been an extraordinarily accomplished four years. In particular, Coleman used the rivalry with Haverford as a benchmark to exemplify the team’s improvement. In 2009, Haverford was a conference power, and a young Swarthmore team was so happy to win just one set against the Fords that it was “one of the highlights of our season,” according to Coleman. In 2012, however, Swarthmore refused to be satisfied with winning just one set. Instead, they dominated the Fords, winning 3-1 and finishing one game ahead of their archrivals in the Conference standings.

With its two leaders moving on, the team will once again need to transition seamlessly into a new season if it wishes to continue its success. In order to do so, next year’s senior leaders, Danielle Sullivan ’14, Brone Lobichusky ’14 and Maggie Duszyk ’14, will shoulder the responsibility of building on the legacy left by previous teams. Chwastyk expects her team to continue to improve, saying that the team’s “alumni have established a certain level [of play] and the expectation stays the same.” To describe her expectations for the team, Chwastyk uses a word familiar to the Swarthmore College community: “sustainability.”

Through the sustainability of the team’s leadership, next year’s Swarthmore volleyball team will look to build on its successes this year by winning the Centennial Conference championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. Though Montemurro and Coleman will not be players on that team, their influence in shaping the team over the past for years will nevertheless be a critical component of the team’s continued success.

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