Average just isn’t good enough anymore for Elon University volleyball coach Mary Tendler.

The Phoenix was 16-17 a year ago and ranked right in the middle of the pack in both the Southern Conference standings and most league statistical categories.

That’s why this year, as the team enters the much tougher Colonial Athletic Association, Tendler is encouraging her players to have higher expectations.

Each player thinks of different things when it comes to expectations on and off the court. But the consensus is that it means holding a higher standard for themselves and not accepting just a measly effort.

“You always want to execute and want to do the best you can on every play,” Tendler said. “Whether you’re digging a ball, it’s not good enough just to touch the ball. If someone hits it hard at you, you can’t just touch it. You want to dig the ball so we can get a swing on our side.”

Tendler echoed that sentiment on hitting, specifying the need to have a plan when attacking. And that continues with serving.

“We want to be aggressive with our serves,” Tendler said. “We want to be able to score points off our serves. I don’t like just playing easy in serves, and I also don’t like misses. The expectations are high.”

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It’s a fitting thought as the team progresses into the CAA, a much deeper league than the SoCon with teams like James Madison University and perennial national power College of Charleston. There is a higher standard that needs to be met for success, a bar that will continually get higher as the years progress.

“You shouldn’t be satisfied with something that you can do better,” said sophomore middle blocker Ally Karle. “Maybe you scored a point. If you could’ve hit it harder, it wasn’t enough. You shouldn’t be satisfied.”

That’s prompted an intense environment in practices so far with some evenly matched competition.

“There’s times where we’re so neck and neck at every point that everyone’s just drenched,” said junior setter Ana Nicksic. “People bring two shirts. It’s fun. It’s very evenly matched.”

The team welcomes that kind of atmosphere, considering Elon opens the season against the University of Maryland from the Big Ten Conference. With that in mind, higher expectations are required for even routine passing drills in practice.

“I think of just pushing yourself every second of practice,” said Elon senior middle blocker Kris Harris. “That’s really hard to do, especially when you’re doing conditioning drills and so many crazy things. I just think it really means to push ourselves to be the best we can be and really try to make that statement in the new conference.”

The margin for error is slimmer and the stakes are higher. Elon can’t afford to be just average.

“I think of Maryland, I think of Purdue, I think of our first home tournament, the CAA,” Nicksic said. “I’m ready to go. Just putting in that extra effort. It could be a step that’s the difference.”

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