Chanelle Smith knows she’ll be tired come Saturday night.
But that’s what comes with the standard three-games-in-two-days tournaments that kick off the college volleyball season.
Teams typically play in tournaments for the first three or four weekends of the season prior to conference play. The tournaments usually involve one game Friday night, one Saturday morning and another on Saturday night.
Playing more games makes for a weekend jam-packed with volleyball, but the tournaments help foster a tough mindset for what ends up being a marathon of a season.
“Just playing in three games, it’s knowing that we’re going to be tired,” said Smith, a senior outside hitter for Elon University. “You have to be mentally tough, because they’re going to be close games. When you’re just physically tired, you have to have the mentality that the ball’s never going to hit the ground.”
Elon opened its year with a three-game home tournament Aug. 29-30, playing the University of Maryland, San Jose State University and Liberty University. The Phoenix spent Sept. 5-6 at the Kennesaw State Owls Invitational in Kennesaw, Georgia. Elon played Kennesaw State University, Purdue University and the University of North Carolina at Asheville.
This weekend, Elon will head to Campbell University to battle the Camels, the University of North Florida and the University of South Carolina. On Sept. 19-20, the Phoenix will be at Wake Forest University to face the Demon Deacons, Western Carolina University and Winthrop University.
Since it’s early in the season, Elon head coach Mary Tendler will use the tournaments to get prepared for the Colonial Athletic Association slate and to see which lineups work best. And the mindset is a little different than conference games, too.
“The focus more is on our side, compared to later in the season when we have two matches a week, and we’re in the conference where we put more emphasis on what the other team is doing,” Tendler said. “Right now we’re just trying to get better on our side. We’re still trying to compete, we’re still trying to win every match we play, but we’re more focused on our side at this time of the year.”
The travel aspect of the tournaments comes into play as well. For the Kennesaw State tournament, Elon traveled to Georgia on Thursday and returned after its game against UNC Asheville on Saturday night.
In all, Saturdays are long days. Elon typically has a pregame meal before its first game, plays, then rests while scouting the other teams.
“It kind of depends, but for us, we try to stay off our feet a lot of the time,” Smith said. “Right when we get done with pregame meal, we go back to the hotel and sit with our feet up. It’s a long day, I’m not going to lie.”
The tournaments provide time to be exposed to different opponents and their styles of play, experience that could come into play down the road. When Elon played seventh-ranked Purdue in Kennesaw, it was the first time in the Phoenix’s Division I era that it competed against a nationally ranked opponent.
The Boilermakers swept the Phoenix, but going up against a team with that kind of talent and watching them throughout the weekend was something Tendler said she was excited about.
“The opportunity to play against a team of that caliber, and not only play against them, but [we were] able to watch them against the other teams,” Tendler said. “It’s good for our team to develop and see that competition so no matter what happens in conference this year, we’ve probably seen it. No matter how big a player is from a CAA school, we’ve seen it already in our nonconference matches.”
Scouting the opponents is one big reason Tendler likes the tournaments.
“It’s one thing of watching them on film or having a coach tell you what a team does, but when the players sit down and take notes and get to see it for themselves, they have a whole different perspective,” Tendler said. “It’s good that they’re taking ownership and wanting to see what the other team does.”
Entering the Kennesaw State tournament, Elon was focusing on improving its offense. Tendler said she liked what the team showed in its opening weekend, especially blocking and defense, but that it needed consistency.
Elon saw sophomore outside hitter Kayla Agae step up during the weekend, tallying a career-high 15 kills in a five-set loss to UNC Asheville. She had seven kills against Purdue and eight in a five-set victory against Kennesaw State.
Offense is critical for Tendler throughout these tournaments so that there isn’t too much pressure put on the defense to score points off serves.
“It just felt like there were a lot of times Coach Mary would push that we need to put the ball down because there were a lot of long rallies, and that just makes us tired in general,” Smith said. “She was saying that we need to find a way to terminate, whether we’re going against a small block or a big block. If we have long runs like that every single game, we’re going to be drained by the third game.”
Smith said she thought the opening weekend was a good sign for the rest of the year. Elon lost a competitive four-set match to Maryland, beat San Jose State in four sets and was swept by Liberty. The season-opening match against Maryland gave the team a big spark for the weekend as a whole despite not winning.
“I feel like, out of all four years I’ve been here, that’s probably the best we’ve started off,” Smith said. “In general on the court, we had so much chemistry. Even people in the stands were saying how different our team looked on the court, just the demeanor on the court when we were up or down.”
With two more weekends of these tournaments, Elon has plenty of time to make more adjustments and learn more about itself.
That’s what Tendler likes, especially at this point in the year.
“Physically, we’re prepared for it,” she said. “Mentally, we just started the academic year so usually there’s a little less requirements for them academically. It’s a good time to have a lot of matches, but still not miss a lot of class.”