Dancing to DJ Khaled’s “All I Do is Win” has been the Emory University volleyball team’s unofficial superstition this season. Before every game, the players danced to the song and partook in other pregame rituals to get the juices flowing and build team camaraderie.
Coincidentally, for the tenth time in program history, all the No. 5-ranked team did was cruise through the 2022 University Athletic Association (UAA) Volleyball Championship Tournament and secure another UAA title after defeating Washington University in St. Louis (Mo.) (WashU) 3-0 on Nov. 5 in Brooklyn, New York.
In the championship game, junior opposite hitter Carly Wallace led the team with 14 kill shots, bringing her hitting percentage to .500 for the match. On defense, senior libero Lauren Bandera dominated with 14 digs. The team’s stellar performance launched them into the first round of the 2022 NCAA Division III Women’s Volleyball Championship Tournament.
Looking to continue the nine-game winning streak they compiled at the end of the regular season, the team faced Bethany College (W.V.) in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament on Nov. 10. Though the Bison were the lower-ranked team, the Eagles looked to capitalize and come out dominant. However, they trailed 8-3 in the first set before head coach Jenny McDowell took a pivotal timeout, which Bandero said gave McDowell enough time to reassure her players that everything was going to be okay and to reiterate that they were well-prepared from the situational drills they had gone through in practice.
“[The timeout] was reassurance from Coach Jenny and looking at each other and saying, ‘We got this,’” Bandera said. “We just needed to let the nerves get out for a little bit, and then just believe, not doubting that we could come back in that set . . . It was chipping away and trying to reset where we are and getting comfortable with the surrounding environment.”
The team regrouped and went on an absolute tear, quickly gathering eight more points to tie the score at 16. The teams went back-and-forth until the Eagles broke the scoring gridlock with a 5-2 run to win the first set.
Emory controlled the pace of the match by winning the next two sets in dominant fashion (25-10, 25-14). Wallace led the Eagles with 11 kills, and freshman setter Olivia Rabinowitz recorded 34 assists.
The team then faced No. 16-ranked Transylvania University (Ky.) Pioneers on Nov. 11. Despite being lower ranked in the coach’s polls, Transylvania asserted a strong presence in the months preceding the Tournament, ending their season by winning 17 straight matches.
Though Emory’s commanding performance in the previous match made it seem as though a swift victory against the Pioneers was imminent, Bandera said that Eagles came in knowing that the matchup wasn’t going to be a cakewalk.
“They had a lower ranking than us … however, they did beat some of the teams in our conference,” Bandera said. “So that gave us an idea that this team isn’t someone we can just walk in and not try.”
Initially, Emory looked poised to win the match in three sets after taking the first two. The first set of the match was competitive, which indicated that the match would not be a lopsided victory. The Eagles came out strong in the final stretch of the set, accentuated by sophomore outside hitter Lily Martin who tallied two kills to end the set 27-25.
The second set began with a dominant 5-0 Emory start, and Emory maintained a steady lead throughout the set and won 25-20.
However, the team had trouble adjusting for the remainder of the match. Though the Eagles started strong in the third and fourth set, the Pioneers found a way to respond. Transylvania pulled away and won the third and fourth sets 25-20 and 25-21.
Continuous runs from both teams dictated the pace of the last set. Despite their valiant effort, Emory lost, with the Pioneers securing a 15-13 victory after a diving dig and clutch kill. Bandera attributed the Eagles’ loss of momentum to the pivotal third set.
“There were some adjustments made on Transylvania’s side of the court, and maybe we could have responded a little bit faster with the adjustments they were making,” Bandera said. “I think we had so much momentum going into the first and second set, so it was a little frustrating to not be able to come out as strong in the third set.”
Though their season ended with a premature tournament loss, the program’s future looks bright. Numerous players received post-season honors for their exceptional play. Sophomore middle hitter Madison Cail was awarded an All-UAA honorable mention, while sophomore right side hitter Alana Dawson, sophomore libero Deborah Hong, junior middle hitter Amanda Meyer and Wallace garnered All-UAA Second Team honors. Dawson and Mayer also received American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) All-Region Recognitions and Wallace was selected to the AVCA All-America Third Team.
Although Bandera’s collegiate volleyball career is finished, she noted how much her younger teammates have matured over the course of the season and said that she has high hopes for the future of the program.
“[The underclassmen] have learned to find their voice,” Bandera said. “They know their game and they’re very aggressive with it and very positive while doing it. It’s been really cool to see that there’s definitely been a huge growth in their games. I think they take a lot of confidence that they’ve developed over just one year and it’s fairly evident on the court.”