More than half the way through its second season as a member of the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA), the Elon University volleyball team is 4-17. The Phoenix is struggling in what has been a rebuilding year after adding six new players — five of whom are freshmen. The team won its first conference match on Oct. 17 at the College of William & Mary.
Head coach Mary Tendler believes that as the Phoenix learns to work together as a cohesive unit, the wins will follow.
“We looked really confident [in the Oct. 8 match against the College of Charleston] in all situations,” Tendler said. “When you’re confident, you’re going to play well, and that showed. When we’re like that, we’re a tough team to beat.”
When the Phoenix has played with confidence this season, it has won sets and matches convincingly. In a 3-0 home sweep of its former Southern Conference rival, Davidson College, Elon’s confidence was on full display. The Phoenix showed determination, battling back from a six-point deficit in the first set, and winning sets two and three without losing the lead once.
That sense of confidence has also bred teamwork for the Phoenix. In the sweep of the Wildcats, Elon had a different leader in every major offensive and defensive statistic, which is to say that no player led the team in more than one statistical category.
For Elon, being confident also means getting young, impactful players on the court early in the season. Tendler has certainly made use of her new additions. Freshman defensive specialist Maddie Jaudon leads the team in digs with 293, averaging just under four digs per set. Transfer junior outside hitter Ebony Scott is fourth on the team in kills with 100 so far. Freshman Kam Terry is fifth, with 92. Terry’s breakout game came against College of Charleston, where she led the match with 18 kills.
There is trust building between older and younger players on the court as Elon builds for the future. Terry’s breakout performance was supplemented with certainty from more experienced teammates that she was capable of playing at a high level.
“We had complete confidence in Kam whenever she got set the ball,” senior outside hitter Megan Gravley said. “When I would be back row, I would be like, ‘oh, she’s got it. She’s got a kill.’ It was a really neat thing to be able to rely on a freshman like that.”
Terry and Jaudon are not the only two Phoenix freshmen making strides to improve — Tendler has noticed it in all five of her young players, making competition better between teammates during practice.
“What they’re doing in practice, they’re getting better everyday, and it’s not just Kam and Maddie,” she said. “It’s the other three freshmen as well, and their opportunities will come. They’re going to be ready. All five of them work really hard as a group, and it makes our scrimmages really competitive.”
There have been other flashes of brilliance from the Phoenix this season. In the Sept. 27 3-2 loss to Hofstra University, Elon again spread the wealth, with a different leader in every statistical category. The Pride was last year’s CAA Tournament champion, making it to the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time the Phoenix really competed with Hofstra — a 3-1 loss at home and a 3-0 loss on the road to the Pride last season left little hope.
The Phoenix has had its issues on the court this season, though. The most glaring issues stem from an inability to win away from Alumni Gym — through seven road matches this season, Elon has just one win, coming in its last match against William & Mary. With upcoming road matches against CAA opponents Towson University and the University of Delaware, the Phoenix must find a way to earn victories outside its home gym.
The Phoenix must also find a formula to win conference games. During its tenure in the CAA, Elon has totaled just two victories in conference play. Both wins have come against William & Mary, on Oct. 31, 2014 and this past Saturday.
Communication has been an issue for the Phoenix at times this season. When the team is performing poorly, they are usually struggling to interact on the court.
Slow starts have also been a headache for the Phoenix offense. Against Loyola University-Chicago earlier this season, Elon was unable to generate any momentum in the first two sets, falling 25-13 and 25-20. By the time the Phoenix was able to win the third set, Loyola was only one set from a victory, winning the match in four sets, 3-1.
“Sometimes it takes a little bit for us to get warmed up mentally,” Gravley said. “Just starting that out from the first point on is going to be important.”
Although the season has not gone as intended for the Phoenix, the team still believes it will improve as time goes on.
“Yes, we’ve struggled going into the CAA, but it’s a part of sports,” Gravley said. “It’s part of the game. You just have to roll with it, and improve from it, and go from there.”