Sept. 23, 2015
WASHINGTON - Since the Hoyas arrived on campus in early August for the beginning of preseason, Georgetown Head Volleyball Coach Arlisa Williams has been preaching the importance of family. With nine new members to the 2015 team, eight freshmen and one transfer, as well as two new assistant coaches, Williams has relied on her three upperclassmen Ã¢â'¬" senior Lauren Saar (Richland, Mich./Plainwell) and juniors Ashlie Williams (Los Angeles, Calif./Marymount) and Caitlin Brauneis (Crystal Lake, Ill./Prairie Ridge) Ã¢â'¬" to help mold this year's squad into a tight-knit family.
"We have an opportunity so many don't and that is to change a culture and leave a legacy," Arlisa Williams said. "Lauren, Caitlin and Ashlie started brainstorming last spring on how to make that happen. Just like any older sister, they embraced the newcomers. On top of that they have taken initiative in organizing bonding activities and had a positive attitude since we stepped on campus August 7. I am so proud of the three of them for turning the page on the last chapter and really digging into this one. Without their positive attitude and optimistic outlook, we would have had a hard time becoming the team, the program and the family we want to be."
There was a lot of excitement coming into this season as the eight incoming freshmen were ranked as the No. 29 recruiting class in the country, out of 332 NCAA Division I programs, by prepvolleyball.com. With the addition of Meghan Richard (Firestone, Colo./Niwot) to that mix, a sophomore transfer from Seattle University, the Hoyas had the makings of a young but promising lineup to put on the court.
"It's nerve wracking getting an entire new team basically but it was also something that I was most excited about," Saar said. "To have a fresh new start and look at it as an opportunity to start a whole new culture we wanted to create here at Georgetown."
With any collegiate team, it is always the responsibility of the team's upperclassmen to help the freshmen adjust to the culture shock of college life. Not only are the young Hoyas adjusting to the jump from high school volleyball to the college game, but also to the rigors of a Georgetown academic schedule and, for most of them, living away from home for the first time.
The three returners did a lot during preseason to ensure all the newcomers felt comfortable on the Hilltop. The main goal was to open the lines of communication and create the perception of a family and that everyone was a valued member of that family.
"We had them over for dinner, had a movie night and we had a couple of pizza nights, just trying to be around each other as much as possible off of the volleyball court," Ashlie Williams said. "We wanted to try and let everyone get to know each other and have a mutual respect for each other, which is hard to build just on the court."
"From the minute everyone arrived on campus, we wanted to make sure the newcomers felt comfortable," said Brauneis. "Because we have so many new faces, it was very important that they bring their personalities to the table as quickly as possible because they are all playing and they are totally the dynamic of the court and the feel of the court is up to them. We wanted to give them our expectations of what we wanted Georgetown volleyball to be and make sure we are all on the same page." Saar, Brauneis and Ashlie Williams have made sure to also be leaders on the court during practice and competition. One benefit they have is that they all play different positions, so they are able to relate to everyone on the court. At any given practice, all three returners can be seen talking to a newcomer, giving advice and ensuring that they are learning the Georgetown systems.
"I think it is really cool that the three of us all play different positions," Saar said. "Caitlin is always able to give good feedback to the setters and Ashlie is always in the ears of the middles helping them with blocking while I can talk about serve/receive. We all have different strengths and have knowledge in our respective areas, which is a strength in itself that we have as returners."
"Caitlin and I have been playing college volleyball for the past two years, and Lauren for the past three years," Ashlie Williams said. "The game changes a lot and that jump from high school to college and, even if you come from the most competitive club, it is still a very different game when you get to college. I feel that we can help the coaches because we can pull them aside and make it more personal and say 'if you do this, you will get this result.'"
Through the first 13 matches of the season, behind the leadership of Saar, Brauneis and Ashlie Williams, the newcomers have lived up to their hype and made an immediate impact on the court. Heading into BIG EAST play this weekend, the Hoyas own a 6-7 record, the fourth-consecutive season they have registered six wins in the non-conference portion of their schedule. Setter Paige McKnight (Atlanta, Ga./Dunwoody) leads the BIG EAST with 23 service aces while Kenzie Higareda (Woodbridge, Va./Forest Park) ranks third with 18 aces and is second with 4.67 digs per set. Alyssa Sinnette (Pearland, Texas/Dawson) leads the Hoyas, and ranks fourth in the conference, with 179 kills and 3.73 kills per set while Symone Speech (Oak Park, Ill./Oak Park-River Forest) is tied for third among BIG EAST hitters with a .337 hitting percentage.
The Georgetown volleyball team returns to McDonough Arena to open BIG EAST play this weekend. The Blue & Gray will host Villanova for a 7 p.m. match on Friday, September 25 before Seton Hall visits the Hilltop on Sunday, September 27 for a 2 p.m. contest.