November 27, 2012

Inside SU Volleyball: Sea Gulls fly to national championship weekend

Senior Jenna Shay is in her fourth year on the Salisbury University volleyball team. She graduated from Northern High School in Owings, Md., and is a native of Dunkirk. As an opposite hitter, she has been a mainstay on the Sea Gulls' front line throughout her career. This season, she will bring a behind-the-scenes look at Salisbury volleyball with blogs that take us into the lockerroom, the huddle and on the road with the team.

This has been such an amazing season for Salisbury volleyball. It was a season full of firsts. It was the first time we were ranked higher than No. 21. It was the first time Salisbury volleyball was chosen to host the Regionals and to become Regional Champions. It was the first time Salisbury volleyball has ever gone to Nationals. It was the first time a player has been named an All-American for four years in a row and the first time a player was named First Team All-American. It was the first time an assistant coach for volleyball has been named National Assistant Coach of the Year.

There were many reasons why our team was so successful this season but one of the biggest was our commitment to all of our superstitions. Coach Knight has become famous around the university for her aversion to braids or anything that crosses, but the players on team also have some routines we must follow for every game. Some examples of these are: before each match we play the same game to warm up called Stuck in the Mud and we must always sit in the same seats in the locker room when Coach Knight gives us her pregame speech. Jess Tallant is probably the most dedicated to these superstitions as well as her own, which consists refusing to shave her armpits during the postseason.

We made history this season and it all started Sunday, November 4 when we defeated Marymount University for the CAC Championship. This win guaranteed us a spot in the Regional tournament and a prospect of hosting. Then on Monday we all had to impatiently wait until 11 a.m., for the announcements of which teams would be hosting Regionals. Some of the girls went to Coach Knight's office to watch the announcements together. I had class so I had to pretend to be paying attention when all I could think about was the chance of hosting Regionals and being able to play three more games in Maggs Gymnasium before my career ended. At about 11:15 Chelsea Glowacki sent out a mass text to the team. We were hosting regionals! It was such an amazing time for our team and at practice that day no one could focus because we were all too excited about the next few days.

On Thursday before the tournament started the whole team, including the coaches, went out to dinner at a local restaurant. The food was amazing and it was the first of many meals the team got to enjoy during the weekend which were all very memorable. It seems as if every time the team got together for a meal, Ashlyn Tapley would entertain us with some kind of dare or challenge. Some of these included stuffing an entire cupcake in her mouth, drinking honey mustard through a straw, and eating Gatorade powder as if it were a pixie stick.

We started out the tournament with a match against Mount St. Mary at 8 p.m., on Friday. We were all very anxious to start the game after waiting the entire day to play, going in and out of the gym to watch the other teams. Finally it was our time. We played extremely well and had a great fan base behind us. We defeated the Knights in three games.

The next day we had a very tough opponent in Richard Stockton College. We had played the Ospreys once before and lost to them in three games. This time we came out very strong and were determined to move on to the next round. We got our wish and came out of the match victorious, beating Richard Stockton in four games.

The final game was against Eastern University. They are a very strong team with amazing defense and some really great hitters. We came out extremely strong the first two games of the match with the help of our amazing fans. It was so loud in the gym and we were amazed at the support that we received during this match. We fell to the Eagles the third and fourth games which brought the match to a fifth and final game to 15 points. We were able to pull out ahead early and came out with the win beating Eastern 15-9. We were on the road to Michigan! Becoming Regional Champions was a great experience and our team couldn't have been more excited. I wasn't able to participate in the celebrations as much as I would have liked because during the fifth game I landed on one of the Eastern players feet when I was blocking and sprained my ankle. Getting hurt my senior year in the Regional championship game definitely was a scary feeling because I didn't know if I would be able to play in Michigan for a chance at being National Champions.

We left two days later at 4:30 a.m., for our plane ride to Michigan. It was a really great feeling when the team got to the bus and some of SU students had woken up so early to see us off and wish us luck before we left. Once we got to Michigan we had a 30-minute bus ride to the hotel where everyone immediately took a four-hour nap.

Even though we didn't have any games on Wednesday we were very busy the whole day. First, we had an hour practice at Hope College where the tournament was being held. The facilities there were so nice and when we went into the locker room that we were assigned, we were surprised with a basket of food, backpacks, and name tags. As soon as the team walked into the locker room everyone was screaming because we were so excited about our presents and the fact that we were in the national tournament!

Also on Wednesday, each team was required to do an hour-long community service project. We got the good fortune of being assigned to the local nursing home in Holland. We got to walk around to all of the rooms and meet with the residents as well as play balloon volleyball with some of them. Everyone we met was so happy to see us and so grateful that we came to see them. It was a great experience.

Once we got back to the hotel everyone had to rush to get ready because next we had to go the banquet being held for all of the teams. During the banquet two representatives from each team got to speak. Tam Weems and Jess Tallant spoke for our team and talked about the 10 things that got us to Michigan including our coaches, our cats and our camaraderie. Also during the banquet we were served an amazing dinner, shown a video which included game tape from each team's Regional championship, and announcements of All-American players.

On Thursday it was time to play. We got to the gym early to watch St. Thomas, the future National champions, and Clarkson play. Then it was our turn. We played Elmhurst College from Illinois. My ankle was much stronger and thankfully I was able to play. We all played very well but couldn't keep up with Elmhurst's strong and consistent offense. We fell to the Bluejays in three games. Our season didn't end exactly the way we wanted, but we accomplished so much this year and I am so proud of my team and how we played. I am going to miss playing volleyball at SU with these girls so much but I have made so many memories these past four years that will never be forgotten.  

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