Webster’s Volleyball team is preparing for its new season. Junior defensive specialist Tori Cichelero is looking forward to having fans return to the stands.
As the volleyball team approaches a new season, it is hoping to secure another St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SLIAC) title and earn a bid to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament. Despite its loss to Westminster last season in the semi-finals, Webster’s volleyball is currently ranked No. 1 in the SLIAC.
The Gorloks will be returning the reigning SLIAC offensive and defensive players of the year from last spring. Player of the year, Lauren Borik, comes back ranked top 10 in the conference for kills, digs, blocks and aces.
Along with having eight returning juniors and seniors, the Gorloks added five freshmen this season. Merry Graf is hoping to use the new roster to her advantage in the wake of this season.
“It’s always tough in the beginning of the season when you have a lot of new players,” Graf said. “They started a little rusting but they are shaking it off.”
According to Borik, the team has a lot of potential this season. Looking back on the team’s first few games, she said the competition really showed the team what it can accomplish if players keep working hard in practice.
The Gorloks took their first loss of the season on Sep. 4 in the Washington University Invitational to 13th nationally ranked school, University of Texas-Dallas. Before this match-up, the team had only dropped one set in three games. Borik believes the team’s chemistry and working on communication will help it down the stretch.
“Communicating is a big thing in volleyball,” Borik said. “Over communicating is always better than not communicating a lot. That and having a lot of energy is something we can always improve on. Energy is what makes the game fun.”
One thing which helps the energy of the team is having fans back in the stands to cheer players on, according to junior defensive specialist Tori Cichelero.
Last season, COVID-19 restrictions prevented friends and family of the volleyball team from entering the gymnasium and watching the Gorloks play in person. Instead, fans had to stay home and tune in to matches via livestream. According to Graf, having the fans in person was a win-win situation.
“It feels good [to have fans back],” Cichelero said. “It’s been two years since we’ve had fans. I loved having my parents and grandparents come to the game. It’s just a good atmosphere and it gets everyone hyped up.”
Cichelero said it was hard last year as a team when they were down because they didn’t have the fans there to cheer them on and get them back up. According to her, when the energy is high in the gym, the team performs a lot better.
Borik also said playing with fans makes the game a lot more fun and completely changes the atmosphere during play. Along with this, Borik and Cichelero appreciate no longer having to wear masks while playing.
“The first game, I think I was nervous and some other people were nervous,” Borik said. “We were like, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s people here.’ and it kind of felt like this shouldn’t be allowed but everyone’s having a lot more fun with fans.”
Borik is also excited to have more non-conference match-ups this season. Last spring COVID-19 prevented the team from playing schools outside of the SLIAC. This was one factor to their shortened season. Non-conference play allows the Gorloks to face more variations of playing styles, according to Graf. She also said it will help them determine what they need to improve on when they come back to play conference games.
Despite all the restrictions last season, Graf said covid really taught them how to appreciate things. According to her, this appreciation has also forced the girls to work harder and have more fun.
“Everything was taken away from us,” Graf said. “We talked about that a lot when we didn’t get to play in the fall but we did get to play in the spring, we talked about how appreciative we should be and remember not to take anything for granted. And it can get overwhelming as student athletes, but we just have to stop and think how we are in the gym, playing our sport which we enjoy so we can just relax and have fun.”