When searching for a substitution, Elon University head volleyball coach Mary Tendler hasn’t been left with many options as of late.
Elon has had six players miss time because of injuries in the last two weeks, depleting an already small roster into one with little leeway for variety.
The Phoenix has 13 players listed on its roster, which is small for a Division I school. Most teams have at least 15 players.
In its last two games at the Deacon Classic Sept. 20 in Winston-Salem, Elon used an eight-player lineup. Against North Carolina Central University Sept. 23, Elon used a seven-player lineup.
“If we’re struggling at something, we look down the bench, and we don’t have that person that has experience to come out and help in certain things,” Tendler said. “I like the players we have in. We have nine players healthy, and I’m proud of them for their effort.”
The injuries have left the Phoenix especially short at setter, as both junior Ana Nicksic and redshirt freshman Sydel Curry have missed the last five games. This meant junior Chelsea Rafetto, formerly a defensive specialist, had to step in and play setter.
Rafetto sat out last year because of a knee injury. She started at Elon as a setter but was transitioned into a defense role. Before Elon’s Sept. 17 game against North Carolina A&T State University, the last time Rafetto played setter was in November 2012.
Through four matches in which she’s played every point at setter, Rafetto has accumulated 103 assists and 47 digs.
“[The injuries] put a lot more pressure on Chelsea,” said senior outside hitter Chanelle Smith. “We’re still getting used to her style of setting. She’s doing a great job. It takes confidence to have to come out there and run an offense.”
Junior outside hitter Megan Gravley has missed the last six games because of a foot injury that required her to wear a boot until this past weekend. Senior outside hitter Danielle Smith didn’t play in the three matches at the Deacon Classic, and she nor Curry traveled with the team for the tournament’s first game against Western Carolina University.
Junior middle blocker Catherine Head also missed three matches after slightly aggravating a previous knee injury but was back in the lineup this past weekend before missing Tuesday's game at North Carolina Central. Sophomore outside hitter Kayla Agae did not play in that game either and had a brace on her left wrist.
Tendler has been forced to shuffle the lineup in order to fill the void of those players who can’t play. The short lineup has emphasized the need for Elon to start sets off strong, something that’s been a point of focus in practice recently.
“With this new lineup, we don’t have time to play catch-up,” Chanelle Smith said. “It’s a whole new lineup, whole new offense. We have to be coming out with the same energy and fire.”
Sometimes, going down a few points early has helped the Phoenix.
“We actually play really well when we’re in a hole,” Tendler said. “We really pick things up. Sometimes the intensity picks up when you’re behind. Right now, our team plays better when we’re behind than they do from being ahead.”
Regardless of who’s playing and who’s not, the goal is the same. It’s something Elon’s worked through during the past couple weeks and will have to deal with for at least the next few matches.
“It adds a little bit more pressure,” Agae said on Sept. 19. “We’re bummed we can’t have those girls on the court with us too, but we trust whoever’s on with us or without us that they’re going to make it happen.”