The Elon University volleyball team is off to its best start to a season since 2009, thanks to its performance last weekend at the Elon Phoenix Classic.
The Phoenix went a perfect 4-0 in the tournament and is now 9-2 on the year, winning 12 of the 15 sets it played this weekend. The tournament wasn’t without challenges, though. Elon defeated Wofford College in a five-set thriller Friday night after trailing early.
But in the final match Saturday against Gardner-Webb University, it took very little time for the Phoenix to assert its dominance.
Led on defense by sophomore outside hitter Kam Terry and relentless attacks from a host of players, Elon defeated the Runnin’ Bulldogs 3-1 to claim a victory at the Elon Phoenix
“Our team is capable of doing so much more than we’ve ever done before this year, and I think it’s definitely showing now,”
Terry is well known for her offensive prowess — as of Tuesday, she led the team with 152 kills — but put on a strong defensive showing against Gardner-Webb with a career-high 16 digs.
Head coach Mary Tendler said she wanted setters to distribute the ball for attacks to several different players to disrupt Gardner-Webb’s defense.
“Gardner-Webb had a really good block [play] on their side, so we had to mix up our offense,”
Win builds confidence
The six-match winning streak is Elon’s longest since the Phoenix opened the 2009 campaign with an 11-match winning streak. The recent run has been a reward for the team’s faith in itself.
“We are seeing some great plays and great players this season, and I’m really excited to see where it takes us,” said junior middle blocker Michelle Klein. “Starting 9-2 is such a confidence booster, and I’m really excited to get into the conference tournament and mess with some teams.”
Unlike in prior tournaments Elon has hosted, the Phoenix played four matches in just two days. Tendler said the tight schedule allowed her to give more playing time to those who hadn’t gotten as much, which helped boost the team’s confidence and chemistry.
“Our offense was going really well, and defensively, I think teams struggled against us,” Tendler said. “The combination of having a balanced offense and good defense behind it — it’s hard for teams to
Junior setter Sydel Curry said she was most proud of her team’s resilience and connection throughout the Elon Phoenix Classic.
“On and off the court, we have such a great chemistry and we all get along and work together,” she said. “That’s the main component of volleyball. You can have all the skill you want, but if the team just isn’t cohesive, it’s not going to happen. We’re a really cohesive team.”
History of hardships
To appreciate the Phoenix’s 9-2 2016 start, look back at the numerous setbacks the volleyball team has had in recent years. Elon began its 2015 season 3-17 and finished the year 7-23 overall (3-13 Colonial Athletic Association).
The Phoenix’s star player last year, then-senior Megan Gravley ’16, suffered a career-ending knee injury in the middle of the team’s conference schedule.
2014 was a rough first time through the CAA, as the Phoenix went 6-26 on the year and only won one game in conference, losing 15. The last time Elon finished a season above .500 was in 2011.
Going into this season, Elon was projected to finish last in the 10-team CAA, according to the preseason poll.
Players like Curry who have seen the low points of Elon volleyball are particularly proud to see the team moving in the right direction.
“Our program has gone through a lot, but to be able to come back this season, we were all so excited,” Curry said. “And so far, we’re doing really great.”
Reaching new heights
Tendler said her players should be confident going forward because of their successes in the Elon Phoenix Classic. Elon swept Norfolk State University and Delaware State University 3-0.
The team also pulled off a tight five-set win Friday night against a competitive
opponent in Wofford.
“These guys look like they’re on a mission,” Tendler said. “I mean, they’re on a mission to do well. They want to win, it’s important to them, they work hard in practice and it shows on a match day.”
With four matches remaining before CAA play, Tendler’s top priority will be to keep her team healthy, confident and prepared for conference play, which begins Sept. 23.