Nov. 8, 2008
FAIRFIELD, CT - If there was one word to sum up the experience of the four Sacred Heart University women's volleyball players entering the final games of their careers it would be "perseverance".
After winning a combined nine games in 2005 and 2006, last season the Pioneers set a school Division I record with nine wins. This season, that number has been shattered, as SHU stands at 16 wins and counting. The team has record first-ever wins over teams from the Ivy League and Conference USA, and also beat one of the premier teams in the Northeast Conference, Central Connecticut State, for the first time in Division I.
The contribution of this year's senior class has been instrumental in that success both on and off the floor.
"I believe that our practices are harder than our games," says head coach Rob Machan. "These seniors have done an incredible job of pushing our younger players and making them better. They really go after them in practice and I think our freshmen and sophomores have benefited from that."
While some people measure success only in time on the court, the seniors on this team understand what it takes to truly make a team great and how important evey member of the team's contribution is to its overall success. Senior co-captain Lynne Principio of Ardsley, NY and outside hitter Kendra Sloan of Bristow, VA both have taken the task of making the team better in any way they can to heart.
"It's always more fun to play," says Principio. "It is always better to be on the court than to be on the sidelines especially, in my last year of competitive volleyball. However, I know that my impact on this team has been great and that my leadership and persistence in practice has helped this team."
Sloan echoed her teammate's thoughts. "It was extremely difficult for me at first," she says. "But seeing the contribution that the four of us have been able to make in making this team better has helped take some of the disappointment out of it. It has also been a lot of fun playing for, and learning from, Coach Machan."
Another thing that has helped enhance these feelings has been the increased enthusiasm for the program by the members of the college community. Attendance has increased threefold this season and there has been a palpable buzz about the success of the program.
"The school has showed so much support for us this season and it has made a world of difference," continues Principio. "It is nice to be able to show our peers and colleagues how hard we've been working and how much we put into this."
Senior Lisa LaCasia from Bayshore, NY has appeared in just a few games this season, but made her presence felt in a big way last week. She came of the bench and nailed a couple of big serves in a SHU win over Central Connecticut.
"How great was that?" Machan commented after the game. "I really didn't do a good job in preparing her to go in at that point. I called her name and threw her into action - that's not an easy thing to do and she did a great job in a tight match."
The 16-10 record to this point has been an exciting thing for the Pioneer players and coaching staff but the next step is to get the team a high seed in the NEC playoffs and a first-ever league title. It won't be easy, but if you had asked these four seniors a few years ago if they would ever reach 16 wins you'd likely have gotten some strange looks.
"It has been a complete group effort to make this transformation and I feel good about graduating from a program that is in such a positive direction because I know that the change started with us," says Principio.