The whistle blew when the ball fell between McDaniel College defenders in the third set of the ECAC Championship, signaling that NYU had taken the final set and match of the tournament. After a season of highs and lows, members of NYU’s women’s volleyball team held their heads high as the ECAC Tournament trophy was finally theirs.
For CAS senior Nazzerine Waldon and SPS senior Katie Goyette, this end to their collegiate careers couldn’t have been scripted better.
“It was a really happy moment,” Waldon said. “It really showed us how much [we seniors] progressed, for our class, from what we started at NYU volleyball with to what we ended with. We just got to see the program get better and better and to be a part of that progression in such a statement kind of way, winning a championship, was huge.”
Goyette detailed the mix of emotions she felt as a senior in that moment of success. “You’re extremely proud. You’re relieved. It was just everything…that moment was just pure joy, it was the best.”
Finishing the regular season with an 18-16 record and a sixth-place finish in the UAA, the Violets received a bid to return to the ECAC Tournament after falling short last season. Behind stellar play by every player, the Violets only gave up a single set in the four matches en route to the championship title. The women’s team functioned harmoniously with synergy during its toughest and most important matches. It didn’t play like the underdog, despite its record indicating otherwise.
“We were very focused on the present moment,” Gayotte said. “So all things, including the team we were going to play, their record, [etcetera], was really not in the picture. It was more about what we were going to do on our side of the court and what we were going to do as a team to be good teammates to each other. It was more about being focused on us.”
Waldon attributed this focus and maturity to the guidance from new Head Coach Andrew Brown
“I think [Coach Brown’s guidance and leadership] played a huge factor [in our successful season],” Waldon said. “The coaching staff, all three of them, were really well connected with each other so their trust in each other allowed us to trust more in the system that they were implementing.”
At the start of the season, Brown already had a championship on his mind. Hired back in January, he caught a glimpse of the players he would be coaching during training camp and knew he had something special in his hands. His belief in his players only grew when he saw just how invested in the game the new first-year student athletes were. He wanted to do everything in his power to not only elevate the skill of each and every player, but to make the season like no other.
“I [saw] how dedicated [the players] were to both their academics and volleyball and I wanted to make sure to give them an equal experience on the court,” Brown said. “That facilitated a lot of the hard work and time, but it gave myself and my assistants purpose as to what we wanted to achieve for these players and give them the ability to walk away saying this was an amazing experience.”
A huge factor in their championship win was endurance through a tough schedule. Not only were they playing some of the top Division III competition as a part of the UAA, but they were also scheduled to play this level of competition in a round robin format. Essentially, NYU would occasionally play back-to-back games in the same day and up to three matches in a two-day span, all against UAA opponents. To top it all off, as the thick of their season began approaching, so did the thick of the academic semester.
“As volleyball begins to amp up, so does school,” Waldon said. “So the moment we started getting into UAA play and [the] postseason, midterms were also happening. So a big part of [our success] was mental endurance and the mental side of the game.”
Come postseason, Coach Brown knew the Violets were the team to beat.
“We knew some of these teams [we were up against] had really strong records, but didn’t have the toughness of schedule that we’re used to, so we faced the tournament like we were the top team in this tournament even though we didn’t have that seed,” Brown said. “We set the bar and the expectation that this is our tournament to win.”
This is the Violets’ first championship since 2013. But as the team celebrates its victory, team members must also bid farewell to four pivotal seniors. Yet, the seniors and Coach Brown aren’t worried about next season at all. Roughly half of the team this season was comprised of first-year students and seeing the success they achieved, it’s fair to say these young players are already experienced. Brown believes his team is fully equipped to defend its title next season and attributes his faith in his young players to the culture and leadership the seniors cultivated in the team.
“[The first-year players] wouldn’t have gained this type of experience if there wasn’t the instillment of this leadership that KG, Nazz and the other two seniors put into place, from the weight room to the commitment in the gym to the court,” Coach Brown said. “I’d like to see them really continue to learn the characteristics that the seniors had showcased in everything from their full commitment to their academics to their experience on the court and really building off of it.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Nov. 19 print edition. Email Zach Han at [email protected]