WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — Each school year brings with it the start of a new chapter in the history books of the Williams College volleyball program. Every player and team that has donned the purple and gold for the Ephs over the past 38 seasons have left their marks individually and collectively on the tradition of the volleyball family.
Coach Christi Kelsey enters her eighth season as the head coach at Williams and is as excited as ever to start the upcoming season with the 2016 Ephs.
"As a coach, you try not to compare teams from year to year," Kelsey stated. "Each season and how it unfolds over the course of three months is entirely its own unique experience every year. All seven teams and the players that have been a part of those teams have all impacted the continued growth of our program in so many positive ways leaving a unique mark each year both on and off the court. All of our alums have helped shape the foundation of our volleyball family and where it is today and makes it truly exciting to see what happens in the next chapter of Williams Volleyball."
Optimism and Opportunity. Two words Kelsey uses to describe the Ephs' mindset as they enter into the 2016 season. The 2015 campaign on paper represented another strong season for the Ephs as they posted an 18-11 record, finished second in the NESCAC championship to eventual national-quarterfinalist Bowdoin College and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament to represent the program's third straight post-season appearance (13th NCAA appearance overall). As the calendar turned to 2016, the returning Ephs have been motivated and upbeat about the possibilities of this upcoming season.
"I was incredibly proud of all that the 2015 team accomplished," Kelsey stated. "There were some really great highlights throughout the season both in terms of individual performances and team performances as well. The most important piece though was all of the growth opportunities and learning moments that we gained with each practice and each competition. We really did learn a lot about ourselves and it inspired our group throughout this past year leading up to this being back in the gym together to start this season. Our present focus has and continues to be what we can build together from now until mid-November."
Jasuta was a 2nd team All-NESCAC Selection in 2015 and is a former conference player of the year, conference defensive player of the year and AVCA All-American. Bennell is a defensive specialist and has played her role on the Ephs to perfection, tallying 365 digs last year, third highest on the team. Jasuta led the Ephs in kills with 274 and digs with 437.
Adding to the strength of the leadership of the senior class will be a strong group of sophomores that includes Ally Ostrow, Morgan Richman, Roxi Corbeil, Mia Weinland, Tess Richman and Nica Kovalcik.
Ostrow earned the NESCAC Rookie of the Year honor last season while compiling 244 kills and 386 digs, both only second to Jasuta on the team.
Kelsey commented, "I am so proud of the work ethic, drive, and overall passion and enthusiasm that this group of returners has not only for our sport but for this program and their teammates as well. Our returners have invested a tremendous amount not just in shaping the overall experience of what it means to be a part of our volleyball family but also in the Williams community as a whole. Collectively they are optimistic, upbeat and incredibly excited for the opportunities that lie ahead for the upcoming season.
Looking to add to the energy and excitement of the 2016 squad are four new first-year players from all over the country and a new assistant coach as well. The new freshmen include Alex Newton (California), Daiana Takashima (California), Natalie Albright (New York), and Erin Denham (Illinois), In addition, joining the coaching staff in her first-season as an Eph will be Cailyn Straubel (2016 graduate and four-year player at Connecticut College).
"There is going to be a great mix of experience and youth as part of our volleyball family this year," said Kelsey. "The interesting challenge that lies before us is to see just how those pieces come together right from the start. Our team chemistry, how we connect and the expectations we create for our team experience will ultimately define just how our 2016 season will play out. I think what is pretty incredible about this group thus far is that they continue to push each other to new levels. They aren't putting any limits on just how much they can grow together and that kind of optimism and sense of purpose is incredibly valuable in how we approach each and every day of practice and competition."
"As we do every year, we put our previous season under the microscope and really try to evaluate what we did well and what we might be able to learn from as we transition and start preparing for a new season. We also take a look at the talented first year class that we will be adding into a mix of already strong returning players. Then, we have this really unique and fun challenge to see if we can raise the expectations and our overall skill level as a team from where we finished a year ago. That is no easy task but it is such a fun opportunity. We know each year the NESCAC keeps getting deeper, stronger and more competitive, as well as the New England Region as a whole. Our 2016 schedule is going to be a great test for us in so many ways, but our primary focus is going to be on the process of making each other and our entire team better every day."
As for some initial preseason predictions on the conference and the region for the upcoming season, Kelsey, as always, is not about to get into predictions.
"The battle for the NESCAC title every year is an exciting adventure," she noted. "We had three teams from the NESCAC represent our conference in the NCAA tournament last season including Bowdoin College who went on to represent our conference and our region at the Elite Eight. Our conference matches night in and night out are evenly matched, well-fought battles and really showcase the amazing student-athletes and coaches who represent the NESCAC. The entire league is a fun, talented group across the board and our non-conference opponents outside of the NESCAC embody that as well. It will make for some really exciting volleyball throughout our 2016 season and we are looking forward to how the next chapter of Williams volleyball unfolds this year."
Williams opens its 2016 campaign tonight at home (7 p.m.) in Chandler Gymnasium against Vassar College followed up by additional competition that weekend (September 9 and 10) at the Union College Invitational against Union, Susquehanna, Oneonta and Ramapo.