The women’s volleyball team fell short in their first two matches of the season against tough competition in Taylor and Mount Vernon.
Conference play began right away for the Foresters. Taylor and Mount Vernon are coming off second and third place finishes in conference play last season.
Coach Kyle Shondell, who took the helm of the program at the start of the season, said he and his team left encouraged despite the losses.
The Foresters fell in straight sets on the road in Upland, where junior Audrey Mallers led the offensive attack with four kills, while Kate Cobb had 14 digs on the defensive end.
Shondell said he thought his squad “lost sight at Taylor” but showed up with more fight Sept. 9 against the Cougars in front of a “phenomenal crowd.”
The Foresters took the first set from Mount Vernon but dropped the next three. Mallers and Josie Beaver spearheaded the Forester offense with 12 and 11 kills, respectively. Cobb registered 42 digs. Freshman setter Breanna Levings posted 21 assists, while Emily Hubby chipped in 15. Beaver also registered nine blocks in the loss.
“There was a huge improvement from Taylor to last night [against Mount Vernon],” Shondell said. “I think was a good piece of evidence that we’re trying to establish ourselves as a defense-minded teams. They didn’t give up.”
Shondell said he hopes to see steps being made throughout the season towards becoming a contending team within a talented Crossroads League conference.
“I’m not trying to separate us from last year, or years prior, “ said Shondell. “But I’m just making sure we are reestablishing ourselves as a highly-competitive program.”
Some returning players said they sense a different mindset and level of expectation in the locker room. Both senior Kelsey Kruse and Beaver indicated that a contributing factor to the change is Shondell’s belief in them as players.
“I have been confident going into our season each year that I’ve been a part of Forester Volleyball, but I am the most optimistic about this season,” Kruse said. “Our attitudes are focused on improving, being mentally tough and going all in. Coach has high expectations for us as players, and we have high expectations for ourselves as a team.”
Beaver, who led the Foresters in blocks last season, said she enjoys any chance to learn from Shondell, who she feels has inspired her to be a more passionate leader on the court.
“I believe a lot of us returning players were reminded of why we play volleyball in the first place,” Beaver said.
Kruse is looking to fulfill her goal of reaching the conference tournament and believes her squad has the talent to accomplish it. Despite having six new teammates, Kruse said the team has already bonded soundly, calling it the best team chemistry she’s had as a Forester.
“Coach Shondell recruited an outstanding group of freshman,” she said. “Our team is now deeper than it ever has been, in the sense that there is no weak link.”
The Foresters will continue their vie for a spot in the conference tournament as they resume conference play Sept. 25 when they host Grace College at 7 p.m.