Posted September 25, 2017
With a brand-new arena and strong core of young players, the UWRF volleyball team has quickly set themselves as a force to contend with in the WIAC.
The Falcons started the season 12-1, with their only loss coming to Carleton College in four sets. The team now sits at 14-5 and is comprised of only two seniors and no juniors. The eight sophomores and seven freshman make up the youngest squad in the WIAC.
Youth and inexperience usually go together, but that isn’t the case for the 2017 Falcons. Freshmen from last year’s team have seen ample time in the starting lineup, and are ready to contribute more as sophomores. Head Coach Patti Ford, in her 26th season with the program, has seen noticeable improvement.
“Our sophomore class has had a lot of good experiences from last year, so they’re playing at a level where they understand the college game now,” she said. “We play a little more experienced even though we’re a young team.”
Amara Meyer, a senior middle hitter, has also been impressed by the increased role of the sophomore class.
“A lot of (the sophomores) started right away last year and have found their voice this year as leaders,” Meyer said. “Now we can just build up our roles and skills because we know who we’re playing next to.”
The Falcons only finished with 15 wins last season. The team also hasn’t finished with a winning record since 2013.
“We were picked to finish last in the preseason in the WIAC,” Ford said. “Our expectation is to go out and compete at our highest level and see what happens. We’ve been fortunate to be on the winning side, and it helps build momentum for conference play.”
Hannah Robb has also been a key part of the Falcon’s success in her second year. The sophomore libero was a part of two matches at home where the Falcons were down two sets to one. Coming from behind to take those victories at home was a key step for the team, according to Robb.
“I think it comes with maturity,” Robb said. “We’ve played a lot of four- and five-set matches. That comes with grit and taking it to them in the fourth and fifth set.”
One of these tightly contested matches came in their rematch against Carleton on Sept. 13. But the atmosphere behind it was something Meyer had never experienced before.
“It was really different and loud and hard to hear,” Meyer said. “Everything was new, and that excitement created some nerves and tension.”
The added excitement is due to the opening of Page Arena in the new $63.5 million Falcon Center. UWRF opened the new arena with a win over Carleton three sets to in front of over 500 fans, which avenged their only loss on the season in their first 13 games.
“A new facility is grand and brings a lot of energy and confidence with it,” Robb said. “You adapt your attitude to it, and that’s why we had a great start.”
Meyer and Robb both praised the finished product, stating it was “the nicest gym I’ve played in” at the college level.
“We had a really great turnout (against Carleton), and we used that energy,” Robb said. “It was overwhelming at first to see the technology and get our bearings for the first time.”
Additional video boards, scoreboards and expansive seating have created an entirely new atmosphere from the cramped quarters in the Karges Center, which coach Ford called home for 25 years.
“It’s the number-one facility in Division III in the Midwest right now,” Ford said. “Instead of selling recruits on a story, I can just show them what we have.”
The Falcons now have one of the best recruiting pitches in the area. The next step is getting players to join the team and commit to the program.
“We’re going to attract more players coming in and are capable of bringing in more fresh talent,” Robb said. “Players leave every year, so the more we attract can help us build a team.”
The young team has faced a tough stretch of play, dropping matches to St. Thomas and St. Benedict before dropping a close match to UW-Eau Claire in their WIAC opener.
Defense, passing and setting have all been key components to the fast start for the team. But there is still room to grow to rise above their position in the WIAC standings.
Robb said that the young team has had a problem with losing multiple points in a row in a set. They have proved they can come back from big deficits, but they need to limit letting their opponents going on runs.
“We get in ruts on big point runs,” Meyer said. “We need to not freak out but communicate and get it back by settling down.”
The addition of former St. Kate’s coach Corey Phelps has also had an effect on the team, according to Meyer. Phelps “adds a new look and more energy” to the program.
However, Ford still needs to see a few minor improvements in her squad to reach the team’s ultimate goal.
“We’re strong in the middle with Amara (Meyer) and Karli (Nielsen),” Ford said. “Our outside hitters have to find ways to score … and make the other team work as hard as we’re working.”
Upgraded facilities and play on the court have the Falcons soaring towards Ford and Meyer’s goal of “finishing in the top half of the WIAC”. UWRF is in fifth-place in the WIAC after a three-sets to one loss to UW-Eau Claire last Wednesday. They will get a chance to move up in the standings when they host UW-La Crosse on Sept. 27.