The Lawrence University volleyball team, plagued by injuries and nonstop grueling competition, aims to get off a nine-game losing streak as conference play begins this week. A series of high-caliber tournaments kept the Lady Vikes on their toes for the entire month of Sept., but it is time to begin the regular season with steady focus.
“Pre-season is always really difficult. We have played teams that are ranked amongst the top 25 in the nation,” explained sophomore Colleen Nowlan, naming teams such as Elmhurst, Whitewater and Edgewood. “It has been challenging, but we go back to basics and the basic drive to win. A lot of what we have to do is just to create the intensity on the court to carry us through the regular season.”
On Sept. 1, Lawrence traveled to Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) to take on the Raiders as well as Wisconsin Lutheran College in a tough double dual right off the bat. The Vikings fell to both opponents as they were still recovering from pre-season camp’s demanding training program.
At times, that program led to aches and pains as well as more serious injuries on the team. “I sprained my ankle during camp week. I was out for a while because we thought I might have fractured it,” said Nowlan. “Some freshmen came in with injuries from the past, and with multiple twice-a-days and the intense practices, they kind of worsened. That escalated to people sitting out. For our seniors I think it is just wear and tear on their bodies. We do a lot of hard workouts. We lift, practice twice a day and run a lot. It just added up, and a lot of us were not expecting that. It knocked us all out.”
Just days after the MSOE Double Dual, LU traveled to Elmhurst College in Illinois for a two-day invitational. In attendance were St. Mary’s College of Indiana, North Park University of Illinois and Fontbonne University of Missouri, along with the host team. This tournament offered a unique opportunity to play challenging, out-of-state teams that the Vikings do not normally see. Lawrence returned to Appleton at the end of the weekend with a 3-1 record, defeating Fontbonne 3-1 in the final game of the invitational.
The volleyball team’s home opener against Marian College on Sept. 9 was hard-fought and exciting to watch, but the Vikings fell 3-1, the score of the final set a close 25-23.
Following their first home game, the Lady Vikes’ pre-season was made up of more competition against many elite opponents such as St. Olaf, UW-Stevens Point and Edgewood College.
“During those pre-season games we did a lot of individual work for those that were in,” says Nowlan. “Hitting, getting the footwork down to maybe prevent some injuries. By Friday, just about everyone was back. Our coach has lessened some of it. We do not do stairs anymore. In games, he will throw someone else in to give someone a break. We are going into conference competition now so we want to make sure our lineup is steady.”
That lineup includes a notably young and talented team. Viking volleyball has no juniors this year and only two seniors. Unfortunately that senior leadership has been limited on the court due to injuries. Senior Terese Swords has been dealing with a shoulder injury, but the team is optimistic that she will recover quickly enough to play the second half of the season. The other senior, Megan Conley, is currently waiting to hear details on a hip injury which could be long-term or could have a quick turnover and have her back on the court playing as needed. Freshman Nicole Witmer, who has been doing rehab for an Achilles injury, returned to practice just in time for the regular season.
“Our young team is going really well, figuring out team chemistry,” revealed Nowlan. “Off the court, we’re really close. We’re all very comfortable with each other and joke around a lot. We’re all supportive of each other on the court. There’s really not a lot of underlying competition. We want everyone to succeed.”
On Wednesday, Sept. 23, the Vikings hosted Carroll University, whose 3-10 record going into conference competition was within reach of Lawrence’s tough 1-14 record. The Pioneers played some comparable pre-season games, losing to similar teams like Wisconsin Lutheran, MSOE, UW-Oshkosh and Elmhurst, along with some other challenging opponents such as UW-Eau Claire, UW-Platteville and Carthage College.
Two more home games will give Lawrence an opportunity to gain some momentum for the conference season. On Friday, Sept. 25, Grinnell College will challenge the Vikings at Alexander Gymnasium, and Saturday, Sept. 26, is Family Day, when Cornell College comes to Appleton to take on the Lady Vikes.