By Krisen Cope
Bump. Set. Hit.
The ball flies over the net. Bump. Set. Hit. Clears the net again.
Each time the ball soars over the net the suspense increases. The crowd tenses with each hit, some even decide to actively participate by jumping up and down, screaming at the top of their lungs while others close their eyes because they just cannot watch as the fate of their team’s comeback is being tossed around, back and forth and back and forth.
The audience’s anticipation is nearing the limit of sanity. Bump. Set. Spike. The ball slams to the floor. Point!
Those already jumping jump higher, those screaming scream louder, those whose eyes were closed for the entire volley join the crowd as Asbury women’s volleyball team gains another point.
The spectators are not the only ones releasing their suspense into joy but the team members are the ones jumping the highest, screaming the loudest and celebrating the most enthusiastically with high fives and slaps on the behind for all, those involved in the point and those who kept the opponent from scoring, defensively.
This is not an unusual response for the volleyball team. Point after point, their celebration and encouragement to each other is constant, even when the other team gains a point.
“There are absolutely no stronger bonds than the ones I have experienced being a part of this team, “ says senior co-captain MacKenzie Burke. “We have an absolutely wonderful team full of women who want to work hard and play their best.”
Burke has been playing volleyball for 11 years, which seems to be the norm for many of the women on the team.
Junior outside hitter Sarah Sterling has been playing volleyball since the fourth grade and when asked about the differences between other teams she has been apart of and Asbury’s she says, “We pray after every game and it is something that I enjoy because it brings everybody together. It is a sense of unity. We are just closer. We are more of a team on and off the court, we stick to it. At my high school we never got along. Here it’s a win-win.”
Sterling is not the only one who feels this way as fellow teammate Maddie Lewis, quickly agrees with an enthusiastic head nod. “We do Bible studies, go on mission trips with each other and we all learn and grow together.”
“Yes, you want great talent, great players, you must have those things,” says Coach JP Rader, “but the biggest factor [of unity] is if they will play for each other, do they love each other and will they work hard for each other on the court? That is the one thing that I need to spend a large amount of time building in order to have success.”
As a spectator of the sport, I see the unity. I can feel the excitement that they have for each other. Just from my seat on the bleachers, the willingness to pick each other up when a team member is down is seen every time without fail.
“I think everyone really tries their best to play for God and for each other,” says senior co-captain Kelly Cole, “that makes a big difference on the court, in practice and in games. No one plays selfishly; everyone is a team player.”
Being a team player is necessary for a volleyball team to function because of the separate and unique talents that all of the positions hold. Almost always after each point, two or three players stream in and out of the game. This provided some difficulty when first learning the game but I soon realized that specific players had specific talents that they have mastered in their position. There are offensive and defensive players. But there were still about twice as many girls on the bench as there were in the game.
“You are not just competing with the other team on the other side of the court,” Sterling says. “You are competing for your spot. I don’t like that. College sports should be that way but it is frustrating when you do put in hard work and you don’t see the results you want.”
As I was adjusting my schedule to attend two of the three home volleyball games a few weeks ago, I experienced the effect it had on my sleep time by causing late night homework sessions to hit one o’clock or two o’clock at times, only because I pushed my homework back by two hours each night. Two hours. I didn’t even attend every practice, pre-game dinner or warm ups.
The balance between volleyball, academics and a social life is a main challenge for every one of them says junior defensive specialist, Maddie Lewis. “It sucks sometimes to have to go straight from practice or a game to studying when your friends are having a movie night. But I just love volleyball and I love my team and I have really enjoyed every minute of it.”
Much opposition and negativity can come from parents, friends and teachers while trying to juggle studies, a social life and volleyball, but Sterling is convinced that important life lessons are learned on the court as well as in the classroom. “[On the court] team building, bonding, communication, leadership, time management, we learn all of it.”
Not only are practical lessons learned, but the excitement of growing deeper in their faith with God was evident as they circled up to hear a testimony from one of their teammates after each game.
“I think this year’s team has probably been the most spiritually in-tuned team that I have had,” Coach Rader says. “There is a real spiritual openness in our talks with each other but I think there has been a real sense of focus on why we are playing, what we are doing this for, how we are representing Christ in everything we do. It’s not just talk.”
The passion seen for each other on and off the court is backed with a sense of aspiring openness, growth with each other and with God, a love for each other and a love for God, despite the idea that the teammate sitting next to you has potential to share playing time with you.
“I love the sport,” Sterling says. “Because there are six people on the court, every one has a different talent and you play as one.”