Clark Volleyball Plays in NCAA Tournament
November 19, 2016
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Last weekend, Clark Volleyball travelled to Hoboken, N.J. to play in the NCAA Division III Regional Championships. The trip marked the first time the team played in the NCAA Tournament.
The Cougars won 3-2 against Montclair State on Friday, but fell 3-0 to Stevens Technical Institute on Saturday. The only other NEWMAC teams in the tournament were MIT and Springfield. Both had a better conference record than Clark, but the Cougars won an at-large bid.
Captain setter Tori Whitney (’17) said that making the tournament, despite not winning their conference, was validating.
“They had to consider how good we are and they thought we were worth putting in a third bid from the NEWMAC, when there’s usually only two…if anything, it was more complimentary that way,” she said.
The team gained a bid to the NCAA Tournament by winning or having close losses against tough out-of-conference opponents. Playing a tough schedule also allowed the team to constantly test itself and improve. It forced the team to communicate well if they wanted to compete.
“The difference between last year and this year where we really took it a step further was the chemistry of the team,” said Head Coach Mickey Cahoon.
Hitter Courtney Pharr (’17) echoed this sentiment. “Team chemistry is one of the most important things in our success. If you don’t get along with each other you’re just not going to have that support,” she said. “This season, we knew that we all had each other’s backs, and that means a lot when you’re out on the court.”
This stronger cohesion resulted in a more robust offense than last season. Marina Ramos (’18) led the NEWMAC in kills with 480 and Ana Mercado (‘19)finished fifth with 346. Clark also received a boost on offense from new member Jacqueline Jimenez-Maldonado (’18), while Pharr and Hannah Fox (‘17) continued to be a steady presence in the middle.
Fox and Mercado both recorded at least fifty more kills than last season. The two gained confidence this season, seeing their roles grow as more teams zeroed in on Ramos.
“They’re all on [Marina], so it kind of takes the pressure off, and it’s my chance to take the focus away from her and onto me,” said Fox.
Mercado played one of her best games in the 3-1 loss to MIT in the NEWMAC Championship Game. The Engineers put two blockers up for every Ramos kill attempt. Mercado found several openings created by having to account for Ramos, and led all Cougars that match with 16 kills.
“We had been practicing trying to get one on ones for me because Coach knew MIT expected Rachel to set it to Marina,” said Mercado, “My role increased, and that made me feel better about myself. I gained a lot of confidence from that game which helped going into the NCAAs.”
Clark’s ability to get Fox and Mercado more involved this season stemmed from the play of setter Rachel Webb (’19). Webb finished second in the NEWMAC in assists per set with 9.64.
“Rachel really grasped the idea of being as versatile on offense as possible,” said Coach Cahoon. “We were best served when we moved the ball around.”
Webb is quick to pin much of her success on the back line. Clark’s defense, anchored by Mia Cattaneo (’17) and Savannah Sanford (’17), led the NEWMAC in digs per set with 18.24. Cattaneo, Sanford, and Ramos all finished in the top ten in digs in the conference, and defensive specialist Rayme Quiban (’19) finished 17th.
“I think what helped me the most with running anything I wanted to do, was that the defense was behind me, doing all they could to get me what I needed,” said Webb.
Cattaneo has started at libero all four years at Clark, but was unable to play in the NCAA Tournament after sustaining a concussion against MIT. Quiban started at libero in the tournament.
“When I found out that Mia was out and had a concussion and I had to be the libero, I’ll be honest, I was a little freaked out, especially since it was for the NCAA Tournament,” said Quiban. The nerves quickly dissipated, as Quiban recorded 27 digs against Montclair St. and 22 against Stevens.
“You couldn’t have asked for a better performance,” said Webb.
Strong showings in the tournament from Quiban and other underclassmen, Justine Bohl (’19), Maddy Chuma (’19), Kacey Legare (’19), and Mercado indicate that the team will likely remain competitive next season.
“We knew we had a skilled group who might not have played as much as the starters this season, but they were ready and they stepped up,” said Cahoon.
These players will play larger roles next season, and will also become leaders to fill voids left by the team’s five seniors: Fox, Pharr, Sanford, Cattaneo, and Whitney.
Mercado lauded the influence the seniors had on the team.
“[I will miss] their energy and their passion, knowing it’s their senior year, they knew they wanted to give it their all,” said Mercado. “Like Sav, she stepped it up so much, and she had a passion in her last year, and showed a lot of dedication. Same with Mia, and Hannah and Courtney. Courtney was really energetic on and off the court, and anyone could see that.
“And our captain too. Tori was amazing…she gets along well with everybody, and I think that’s the most important thing about being captain,” added Mercado.
Reflecting on her time as part of Clark Volleyball, Cattaneo recalled visiting Clark as a high schooler.
“I came out here on my visit, and coach told me they’d never made the NCAA Tournament before, and I was shocked, and that’s when I kind of knew I wanted to be here and play on the team that could help him get that done for the first time,” she said. “Making the tournament was the cherry on top of an incredible career. I don’t think the seniors could have asked for anything more.”