The Elon University volleyball team started off its season last weekend with the Hilton RTP/NCCU Tournament in Durham, but fell to Hampton University, Bradley University and Liberty University.
With mainly tournaments for the next four weeks, the team will take on schools such as the University of Alabama, Duke University and Northeastern University. Head coach Mary Tendler said it is good for the team to play major conference teams early in the season.
“We need to play tough teams to prepare us for SoCon teams,” she said. “It will challenge us. If we play well, we have an opportunity to win, but we definitely need to bring it.”
Second-year captain and senior defensive specialist Ali Deatsch said the team this year is very talented and has a lot of depth, which will help this season.
She said she believes it will be the team’s mental game that will make the difference for them playing such challenging teams.
“It’s about taking pride in who we are as Elon volleyball, whether or not Alabama has heard of us or not,” she said. “It’s taking pride in who we are and going out there and doing our best no matter who’s on the other side of the net.”
With four freshmen additions, Tendler said this year will showcase a brand new team, and the tournament play will help it discover its strengths and weaknesses.
“With all the new comers, one of our long-term goals is to mesh as a team,” Tendler said. “We have four new players, but the seniors we lost played major roles for two or three years, so we are going to be a whole new team, which is fun and exciting, so our opponents won’t know what to expect.”
With the loss of starting setter Megan McMahon after she graduated last year, Tendler has yet to name a new starter at that position. But the three games during each tournament can be used to try line-ups to test which players will make up the strongest team.
Two of the freshmen are setters and Tendler said she also hopes to have captain and junior right side hitter Cali Estes help set, but Estes is recovering from an ACL tear.
“She worked really hard in the spring and when she went home this summer, so I’m really proud of her for all the work she did and the shape she came back in,” Tendler said. “She is in better shape then we thought she would be but we are still progressing slowly because we don’t want any setbacks. It’s not easy going through what she went through.”
Tendler is also running freshmen setters Chelsea Rafetto and Ana Nicksic through many hitting repetitions to allow them to practice the sets and understand where and to which hitters the sets should be going.
Still, the setter is such an important position on the team, and Tendler said she knows it is going to take time and many repetitions for them to really get in sync with the hitters.
“It’s like a freshman quarterback coming in and starting, which doesn’t happen often,” Tendler said. “But they are both confident and working hard, so we are just trying not to complicate things too much.”
The first home game is 7 p.m. on Aug. 29 in Alumni Gym against North Carolina A&T.