Team remains positive, sets goals for next year
The UC Davis beach volleyball team had just started to find its confidence when its second season as a program was cut short by the recent suspension of all sporting events and practices due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Members of the team spent their first season trying to establish themselves as players and were using their second season as an opportunity to compete with teams at a higher level. Although they were not able to complete their 2020 schedule, the Aggies are now taking this time to focus on themselves and set goals for the next season.
“I think they handled it really well,” said Head Coach Ali McColloch regarding the team’s response to the cancellation. “There were a lot of disappointed faces because they had been working so hard towards getting better and finally feeling like they were getting used to the beach game.”
McColloch explained that almost everyone on the team is new to beach volleyball. The athletes viewed this season as a chance to showcase what they had been working on, since most of them had gotten much stronger and faster as players.
“Obviously the team was bummed that we were no longer going to be able to compete,” said junior Paloma Bowman in an email interview. “[But] we completely understood why the precautionary measures were taken.”
Bowman, one of the athletes who had returned to the team after playing on last year’s squad, was often playing at the No. 1 spot in the lineup with sophomore Jane Seslar. The pair’s wins this season were clinchers in victories against San Jose State and Utah.
The team was proud of the progress it had made up until the suspension, Bowman said. Rather than looking at the situation as their season being cut short, they were more grateful for each day they were able to be part of the program.
“It all happened so fast,” McColloch said.
In the team’s final meeting, everyone took the time to process the news while still remaining positive and praising one another for their accomplishments.
The beach volleyball team is a fairly young program compared to most others at UC Davis. It’s one that lacks a significant senior presence and has a handful of newcomers who joined the team this season. This is something McColloch sees as a positive, as it means almost everyone will be returning next season. Players who had redshirted this past season can also take this time to build on their skills.
According to McColloch, the freshmen on the team took the news really well, and understood the situation as something much bigger than beach volleyball. She acknowledged the sense of unity that exists within the team and the members’ ability to “handle anything that is thrown at them.”
For freshman Megan Luly, this was her first time competing at the college level. Her main goal this season was to make the transition from the junior level of volleyball, which required a lot more dedication to the sport, both physically and mentally.
Luly finished the shortened season with a 5-3 overall record, performing at the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the lineup. She posted a three-match winning streak and won back-to-back matches at different points throughout the season.
“We all knew that we should be putting our personal and others’ safety above competition,” Luly said in an email interview. “Personally, I was sad to see my first season end so shortly, but was pleased that we were able to get a few games in.”
McColloch also sees this time as an opportunity for the team’s athletes to direct all their focus and energy into their academics, rather than having to juggle between athletics and their education.
The team is currently preparing for next season through virtual check-ins, which include goal setting and film review, McColloch said. The athletes also hold virtual group meetings on their own to stay connected with one another.
But McColloch prefers to limit the amount of time that everyone is required to spend on a computer because of how much time they already spend looking at a screen during their Zoom class meetings.
“Team communication is extremely important to us,” McColloch said. “But for us to require even more time on the computer is backwards from what we always talk about, which is trying to get rid of the screen.”
McColloch highlighted the most important things for the team’s athletes to be doing at this time, primarily focusing on academics and “strengthening their mental toughness.” She believes now is an important time to focus on the mental side of their game instead of the physical aspect.
The athletes also reflected on the hopes they had for themselves going into their second season, and believe they made a lot of progress toward the goals they wanted to achieve.
As a younger team with less experience, the Aggies were at an obvious disadvantage when playing teams that had been together much longer, said McColloch. But through building endurance and becoming a more physical team, UC Davis was able to make up for the lack of experience and compete with teams at a higher level.
The Aggies also faced much more difficult competition this season, playing against teams like No. 11 California and No. 17 Arizona. McColloch said these duels against tougher opponents were important to gain experience and knowledge, even if the Aggies did not win.
McColloch looks back at a double-header from Feb. 29 as a “turning moment” for the team, in which the Aggies were dominated by California in the first game but came back out and defeated Utah in the second. She explained that the Aggies developed from being “out of their comfort zone” last year to actually feeling that they could challenge more difficult teams this season.
“The process of learning is a trying and challenging one, but that’s why we have a support system to carry each other when we need it,” Bowman said. “I think the beautiful part about our team is the ability to show up and be a part of a culture that cultivates growth.”
Bowman’s current schedule without volleyball consists of online classes, schoolwork and working out. She said this is the longest she has gone without touching a volleyball in the 13 years she has been playing the sport, and is using this time instead to train for a half marathon with one of her teammates.
Luly also maintains a similar schedule, balancing academics and trying to remain active while following the current social distancing guidelines.
Although the team did not get the chance to compete in a full season, there was a lot of effort that went into preparing for it, Luly said. The team still maintains an energetic and encouraging demeanor, with the athletes pushing each other to become better players every day.
“I think everyone on the team had personal goals that they were looking to achieve,” Bowman said. “While we did not necessarily all peak at this point in season, I have no doubt that every single one of my teammates is capable of anything and everything she puts her mind to.”
Above all else, the team is remaining positive and continuing to set goals for next year.
“We love each other unconditionally, not to say we do not have our disagreements or setbacks, as every family does, but we persevere by leading with compassion, working hard each day, and holding each other accountable,” Bowman said. “I would say being as strong as family is the quality I hope to continue in the next season and the future of this program.”
Written by: Rain Yekikian — email@example.com