For the Swarthmore women’s volleyball team, topping last season’s accomplishments will be a tall order. The Garnet were crowned NCAA Regional champions, boasted a 24-8 record, and were Mid-Atlantic Regional Champions. Arguably, 2017 was the best season in the program’s history. Despite this, the Garnet failed to capture the elusive Centennial Conference Championship, falling to Johns Hopkins in the finals 3-1.
This year, the path to redemption in the conference playoffs starts Saturday. The Garnet, who finished the regular season 14-9 (7-3 in conference), are seeded No. 3 in the five team tournament. They play the No. 2 seed, Johns Hopkins, in Lancaster, PA, the hometown of host Franklin and Marshall. Swarthmore played Johns Hopkins earlier this season at Tarble Pavilion, losing 3-1 (25-20, 22-25, 27-29, 24-26). Hopkins is 19-7 on the season and only sustained conference losses to Dickinson and Franklin and Marshall.
The No. 4 and No. 5 seeds in the tournament are McDaniel and Muhlenberg, respectively. McDaniel and Muhlenberg will play each other for a chance to take on No. 1 seed Franklin and Marshall in the semifinals, who finished conference play undefeated.
Swarthmore has had a tough path to the playoffs. They sustained several injuries throughout the season, and are 4-6 in their last 10 matches. The team, however, has a strong belief that this could be the year they win the championship. “Obviously there’s immense pressure to do well in playoffs, but I think the team is feeling better about our chances than we have all season,” says libero Sarah Girard ՚19.
Girard has had an extremely distinguished college volleyball career. In August, she broke the team’s all-time dig record by recording her 1772th dig. She is also a three time All-Centennial player, was the Centennial Conference Rookie of the Year in 2015 and has Academic All-Centennial nominations in 2016 and 2017. Going into the conference tournament, Girard is only 22 digs away from 2000.
Another member of the women’s team to reach a career milestone this season was outside hitter Mehra Den Braven ’20. Den Braven became the seventh player in the program’s history to surpass 1000 kills during their career. Last season, she was on the All-Centennial first team and was voted the NCAA DIII Mid-Atlantic Region Tournament Most Valuable Player.
Many members of the team have stepped up this season to fill the void left by the departure of five seniors in 2017. The loss of Sarah Wallace, Alice Liu, Bridget Scott, Olivia Leventhal, and Malia Scott to graduation, and a small incoming class, have both contributed to a smaller roster size of 12 players this season.
“[The roster size] has caused us to be both more cautious and more driven this season,” said Alyssa Nathan ’21, a setter from Wilmington, Delaware. “On one hand we have to be more cautious with respect to our bodies and general health because we have such a shallow bench, but on the other hand it has made everyone realize that at some point in a game every single one of us will play,” she continued.
General health has been hard to come by for the volleyball team. Lucy Fetterman ’22 and Guin Mesh ’19 have spent most of the season out with a concussion. Other players have picked up knocks as well, but haven’t missed the significant number of games Fetterman and Mesh have. However, Girard is pleased with the way the team has dealt with the hand they’ve been dealt.
“Our team has been going through an unprecedented number of injuries this year, but things are finally starting to come together,” says Girard. “Losing the seniors and some players to injury has forced our younger players to step up and assume leadership roles on and off the court.”
The Centennial Conference playoffs will be a test for these younger players, but they’re up for the challenge. “The thing about our younger players is that they’re extremely composed, emotionally mature, and competitive,” says Girard. “I’m sure they will have some nerves about playing in this atmosphere just like the rest of us, but I have no doubt they will end up thriving in the competitive playoff environment.”
The combination of upperclassmen experience, underclassmen enthusiasm, and all-around talent has the Swarthmore women’s volleyball team geared up for another successful playoff run. All eyes will be on the team as they play Hopkins this Saturday.