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Volleyball ends season with first trip to NCAA D-III Tournament

CONTRIBUTED The volleyball team wraps up their most successful season to date by competing at the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The volleyball team wraps up their most successful season to date by competing at the NCAA Division III Tournament.

By Tommy O’Donnell

The Grinnell women’s volleyball team is looking forward to what the future holds after finishing up their most successful season to date. The team lost in the first round of their first ever trip to the national tournament.   

“That was one of the goals I had coming into playing college volleyball, getting to the D III championship, because I knew this team had never done it. So, in doing that, it has kind of opened my mind up to more possibilities in the future of not only getting to the championships in the future but also being able to compete in them.” said Payton Lowrey ‘22, a defensive specialist from St. Louis, MO. “It’s a little bit of a difference from last season. We were definitely successful in getting to the tournament but we’ve definitely improved on the foundation we’ve created,” added Lowrey.  

The Pioneer’s historic season included breaking seven school records while having numerous entries onto the program’s all-time top 10 leaderboard. Most notably, the team produced a program record for wins in a season finishing with a record of 26-5, which propelled them into their unprecedented postseason.

Although the team had high ambitions coming into the season, the possibility of making Pioneer history only started to seem achievable for Rachel Woock ’23, an outside hitter from Carmel, Ind. after a huge win against Cornell College during MWC conference play.   

“When we beat Cornell for the second time … the first time we beat them we were really shocked and we didn’t know what to expect going into it again. So, once we beat them again, we definitely had confidence that we could go far,” said Woock.  

  For Lowrey, the chance of reaching tournament for the first time didn’t sink in until the MWC tournament final. “I feel like, for me personally, it was when we were playing St. Norbert and it was the last set … I was like ‘Oh, we can do this,’” said Lowrey.   

Last Friday, the team travelled to the University of Chicago for the first round of D III nationals. The Pioneers battled hard in their first trip to this stage but lost in three sets to fourth-ranked Carthage College. After losing the first two sets 25-14 and 25-16, the team fought toe-to-toe in the third set before falling 25-23. Woock provided six kills in the contest, while Lowrey added a match leading 24 digs.  

“It was definitely a battle … if we played them again we probably could have at least took a set or two … it wouldn’t have been impossible,” said Lowrey. “They beat U Chicago who is like name wise in D III volleyball very recognizable … so playing them and then learning about that result was definitely reassuring because it shows that we played a really hard team.”  

Lowrey believes that the addition of a strong first year class helped them to achieve their best season yet. “Rachel contributed a lot, she played all around, all year. I did her position last year because we didn’t have her. So when she joined the team, we had someone to fill that role who was much better at that than me … and I was able to play the position that I was recruited as,” said Lowrey. “The first years brought another driving force.”   

Woock was also quick to acknowledge the support she has been given as a first year in fitting in with the team. “I think that from the beginning they set a standard for our team culture and how the season was going to go … which was really good … just really encouraging, especially at the beginning,” said Woock.  

Both players have their sights set on building upon this year’s success and are looking forward to the challenge of keeping their Midwest Conference title next year.   

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