The Stevenson University beach volleyball team concluded their season after losing in the silver bracket of the AVCA Small College National Championship in the semifinals. The Mustangs finished with an 11-11 record overall, and finished the regular season on an 8-0 win streak.
Beach volleyball is the fastest growing sport in women’s NCAA history, and as its claim to fame, Stevenson University was the first Division III school in the country to sponsor the sport. Currently, there are only three teams competing in NCAA Division III, according to the NCAA site: Stevenson, Huntington College (Ala.) and Principia College (Ill.).
Describing the season as “very interesting and competitive,” head coach Dave Trumbo added the team’s practices are meaningful. Pairs ranking from level one to five include Katie Leftridge and Trang Christensen, Piper Connors and Darian Hileman, Caroline Dangel and Emily Castro, Mackenzie Blevins and Emily Pellini, and Lizi Cudal and Grace Chaffee.
“We play mainly Division II teams that have scholarship athletes, and the fact that we can compete with them and beat some of them is really exciting,” said Trumbo. Freshman business communication major Emily Pellini agreed: “Everyone is so driven and focused, and I really think that separates us from our competition,” she said.
Surprises and changes throughout the course of the season are nothing new to the team, and as a whole they have grown stronger as a result. Maneuvering through injuries and shuffling the line-up has helped the team to expect the unexpected.
“There is always room for improvement,” said Pellini, adding that the majority of the players this year are used to indoor volleyball, specifically the freshmen. Therefore, the different rules and outdoor elements of beach volleyball were new to most.
“We have played in sunshine, rain and snow so far this season. We have gained ball control and are able to keep our momentum moving forward,” said Piper Connors, a freshman legal studies major who Trumbo said has been the most surprising playing on level two her first year at Stevenson.
The team agrees that one of the best parts of competing and practicing together is the positive and supportive energy that resides within the group. Traveling and cheering each other on makes the team look forward to competitions, even if they are not participating. Connors said this makes her excited to spend the next couple of years playing here at Stevenson.
Both Pellini and Connors said they are eager to continue playing as the season comes to a close.
“I am really excited to get a chance to play teams we lost to earlier in the season. It has been so fun to see my teammates’ improvement this season, along with my own, and I am confident we will be more competitive with these schools,” said Pellini. Connors said she believes the team can push these schools enough to the point of beating them.