Playing Division I teams as a Division III team is an accomplishment all in itself. Stepping onto the court against the University of Hawaii, UCLA, and Lewis University is a whole other conversation. That is something everyone on this team will always remember. More importantly is how the team played and reacted to being on such a major stage.
Our first game on Thursday night 1/12, showed an excited nervousness about stepping onto the court. There was an electricity in the Stan Sheriff Center, which is most likely the largest single arena that most of the team has ever played in. The first two games of the match Hawaii took 25-21 and 26-24. The winners and losers of both of these games were separated by a couple key rallies, and with a little bit more playing time under our belts, we could have won. As the third set began, Hawaii jumped out with a lead and never looked back, sweeping SC. The team was humbled but still hungry for another fight, waiting for the next game.
Our goal was to continue to play better every night, both individually and as a unit.
On the next night we did just that. Friday 1/13, this time walking into the still gigantic Stan Sheriff Center. We were taking the court against the #3 ranked team in the country, UCLA. While we still lost in three, not a single game was lost by more than 5 points. We were able to raise our communication, unity, and level of play in order to hang with some of the best throughout each set, only being slighted towards the end of the game. Our costly errors that gave UCLA the ability to pull away, are ones that we can control. It’s these rallies that we will work on in practice, and will give us the ability to pull away in future, and get some wins.
Finally our last game took place at 4 p.m. on Saturday 1/14, against Lewis University. This time taking the court, we were hoping for a different outcome that, unfortunately, never took place. Again obtaining our goal of playing better as a unit, the scores were once again close with the #9 ranked team in the nation. Losing the third set 27-25 proved to be a heart breaker, especially since many of us thought the match would be headed to game four. We went up against the three powerhouses, and were able to play at a very high level of volleyball and proved that we could hang with these teams.
After each of the matches, a potluck dinner was hosted by the Springfield faithful, headed by the Tanaka clan and Springfield Alumni. This was a time where we could forget about the game just played, and truly enjoy spending time with family and friends who have supported us through this entire journey. Another big thanks goes out to the Tanaka family for ordering, picking up, and organizing these dinners for us. Without them, this trip would have been much more difficult, and the food would definitely not have been as good!
Overall, knowing who these teams are and knowing how we fared against them, we were able to open the eyes of not only the opposing players and coaches, but also everyone in the arena who watched us. Many were surprised at how well we played so early in our season especially against the teams we were playing. While we may not know it, Division III volleyball as a whole earned some awareness from the Division I world.
There are some that may see the outcomes of the weekend and think it was failure; it was anything but that. By playing against these teams and by playing at such an elite level, we were able to make a blueprint on what needs to be worked on for the rest of our season. By looking at the rallies we lost, we are able to pinpoint our own weakness and fix them before anyone else can exploit them. It is now our job to fix what we have learned, and by doing this, we are one up on any opponent we face.
This weekend should be viewed as a success because of everything we have accomplished from being the first Division III team to be invited to the Outrigger Invitational, to now seeing what we have to work on for our team to work efficiently as a unit.
Our work is laid out for us, remembering that it is the journey. It is the work along the way that creates the end product and not the other way around.