Despite facing some challenges this year, Eastern’s women’s volleyball team is ready to take its eighth consecutive conference championship and maybe even make it back to the Sweet Sixteen.
“The best aspect of the team is their desire to win,” said coach Mark Birtwistle.
“They have a unique ability to get the job done.”
Team captain Julie Caldwell agreed.
“It’s good to know that when you’re not winning, your teammates aren’t going to give up,” she said.
Unity has been one of the big issues facing the team this semester.
The addition of five new players to the team has changed the unity they had the previous year, according to defense player junior Patsy Rivera.
“We’re not anywhere near where we were last year because last year there was team unity,” Rivera said.
Although it has been a struggle to adjust to the new team members, the team is handling things well, according to Birtwistle.
“Over the last two weeks, we’ve come together and really started to play well,” he said. “We’re peaking at just the right time.”
Any struggles the team has had this year have not shown on their record. So far this year, the team is 26-6, has remained undefeated in its conference and is poised to play in the PAC semi-finals on November 4, according to their website.
The team is confident they can advance even beyond the conference championship.
“My goal, personally, would be to make it back to the NCAA tournament,” Birtwistle said. “I think it would be a great accomplishment.”
“I think we have the potential to upset some big games,” she said.
The team did just that earlier in the season in their win against Carnegie Mellon University, nationally ranked number 25, and by challenging number two ranked Juniata College in a late October loss, according to Birtwistle.
Some of the girls attribute the success of the team to Birtwistle himself.
“He scouts and finds out as much information as he can so he can prepare us,” Rivera said.
Birtwistle instead credits the players with the success of the team.
“It comes down to the players, really,” he said. “They’re motivated. They have a lot to prove.”
One thing the team would like more success in is in the fan support they receive.
Attendance at games has dropped significantly in the last three years, according to Rivera.
Members of the team attributed this decline to the fact that many of its home games are the conference games, which the team usually wins easily.
“It’s like playing a middle school team,” Rivera said, “It’s just too easy to win the conference.”
Even though the team does not draw the fans it would like, its coach is behind them all the way.
“When the girls win, have fun, are successful, that’s my greatest excitement,” he said.
Birtwistle’s greatest excitement happened over the weekend, when, with a 28-6 record, the Lady Eagles captured their seventh PAC championship with a victory over the number two ranked Alvernia College.