BRIDGEWATER — Bridgewater College volleyball coach Erin Harris felt from the start of practice that 2019 had potential to be special kind of season for the Eagles.
But so much of that hung on just how quickly some talented freshmen could become acclimated to the college game. By Sept. 28, when BC swept defending Old Dominion Athletic Conference champion Washington & Lee and improved to 17-1 and 6-0 in the ODAC, the feeling was more of a fact.
“This is where I knew we had the potential to be at this point,” Harris said. ”Obviously, with freshmen being in prominent roles on the floor, you never know how they are going to react because experience is something you can’t teach to people. But they’ve been able to step in because our upperclassmen are so welcoming and patient. So we have really grown, and we are still growing.
The Eagles return to action after fall break with a short night trip into Harrisonburg tonight to take on rival Eastern Mennonite. Bridgewater will continue to rely on seniors such as Rachel Gaston, who leads the team with 225 kills, and Taylor McNeely with a team-high 269 digs and 30 service aces. But they are also quick to point out the contributions of their younger teammates.
Freshman setter Grace Hayes leads the team with 582 assists while Lisa O’Grady is another first-year player who has played in every match thus far.
“Grace and Lisa have made a huge impact for our team,” McNeely said. “Going in, I was thinking we could do well, but I wasn’t necessarily expecting this much success and I’m really proud of how far everyone has come.”
A combination of leadership from the seniors and a willingness to embrace the message from the underclassmen has been a key for the Eagles as they continue pursuit of the ODAC title.
“Speaking from past experience, it’s hard to come into a new program and know where you fit in and how you can help win a championship,” Gaston said. “But they’ve come in ready to play and ready to practice and fully bought in to our vision and goals of winning a championship. We really didn’t have any difficulty getting them acclimated to our culture.”
But to keep it going, Bridgewater will have to make a successful transition back into competition mode after a week off. Harris has liked what she has seen from the group since their return to practice.
“Anytime we have an ODAC opponent, but especially a good one like EMU, we have to be ready to go,” she said. “Every single ODAC team we play is important because this conference is neck and neck. There are little things we aren’t as sharp as we were four or five days ago when we practiced every day. But we’re jumping high, we’re hitting hard and moving quickly, so that kind of stuff we’ve benefited from the time off.”