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The Scarlet & Black

Julianna Roth becomes the fastest volleyball player to reach 2,000 assists in Pioneer history

Volleyball setter Julianna Roth ’22 breaks record by being the fastest player to record 2,000 assists in school history. Contributed.
Volleyball setter Julianna Roth ’22 breaks record by being the fastest player to record 2,000 assists in school history. Contributed.

The volleyball team (24–4) is having their best season in program history, and at the center of it all has been setter Julianna Roth ’22 from Palo Alto, California. This year, Roth became just the fifth Pioneer ever to record 2,000 assists in her career, and is the fastest to do so.   

On the Pioneer leaderboards, Roth currently holds the record for most assists per set at 9.82, and if she continues at her current pace, she’ll easily claim the record for most assists by the end of her career. She’s been one of the most consistent players on the court her first two years, and she plays a vital role in leading the team to success.

“As a setter, I’m like the equivalent of a point guard. I run the offense and tell hitters what to hit, where to hit, and things to watch out for. I play defense too, but my mind is pretty much focused on offense,” Roth said. “Naturally, you have to be a leader and you have to be vocal on the court [as a setter], so that you’re able to move people around.”

Her position is arguably the most valuable on the court, as she must provide a clean, hittable ball to the other players in order for them to score points. Although her job is very difficult, she handles it with extraordinary precision, and takes pride in being the source of stability on the court. Hence, it’s no coincidence that ever since Roth joined the squad, star outside hitter Kaylin Kuhn ’21 has dramatically increased her amount of kills per set. The two of them form a rock solid duo that practically no team can match on the court.

While Roth clearly has a knack for playing the game of volleyball, she surprisingly didn’t start playing the sport until 6th grade. “I was a soccer player for a really long time. I played a lot when I was in elementary and middle school, and a little bit into high school, and I didn’t start playing volleyball until sixth-grade, which was just for my middle school team,” Roth said.

However, once she started, she could sense that she had a natural talent for volleyball. She ended up joining a club team in seventh-grade, and by the time she reached high school, she was playing in competitive travel leagues throughout the Palo Alto area.   

Roth said she was originally hesitant about playing volleyball in college, but once she found out more about Grinnell, she realized the opportunity was too good to pass up. “I didn’t know much about Grinnell before I started looking at it. I started talking to coach Ragan, and I felt like I really connected with him. I was really excited by the program that he was presenting to me. I then visited the school twice, and when I had my overnight visit, that was when I really could see myself here,” Roth said.

She put up big numbers last year as the team went 17–16, and barely lost to St. Norbert College in the MWC tournament semifinal. But this year, her vision for the team has come to fruition, and they’ve broken the record for most wins in program history.

“Everyone on the team this year is so unique and very dedicated, and everyone has their own passions. We all bring something new and different to our team’s culture, and we mesh perfectly together,” Roth said.   

Now, the team is ready to pull off something even more special: win the program’s first ever MWC championship. They’ll get the chance this weekend, as they take on Cornell in the semifinal on Friday night. If they win that, they’ll face either St. Norbert or Illinois College on Saturday for the title.   

Even though volleyball currently occupies a significant amount of Roth’s time, outside of the sport, she’s very interested in studying history. After college, she’s considering law school or getting heavily involved in an academic field.

Yet, even after her playing days for volleyball over, Roth still feels like she’ll always hang onto her competitive spirit. “I love sports. I’m a very competitive person and I love being active, competing, and running races, so I think I’ll always be competitive in that sense. But for now, I’m really focused on making the most out of these four years,” Roth said.   

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