By CHARLIE GRIGSBY – STAFF WRITER
In the back of Alumni Hall, three plastic boards sit atop a wooden counter. One board is titled “Weekly Will-Powers” and lists the Centre Volleyball team’s focus from each week of the season. The other two boards are divided into grids. In each grid, individual players write down their goals as a reminder of what they’re working towards everyday on and off the court. In the bottom right-hand corner of the rightmost board, one of the team’s goals is circled, written in bold, black marker:
Programs elevate with impact recruiting classes or home-run coaching hires. In the case of Centre Volleyball, change was simply a matter of will. This year, Centre Volleyball lost one senior and gained three first-years. Their record went from 15-16 a season ago to 22-4 headed into the 2013 SAA Conference Tournament. A lot of change has happened in a year, but you wouldn’t be able to tell by looking at the roster.
“The whole team dynamic has changed,” head coach James Neyhouse said.
“Everyone knows that they contribute something different to the team,” senior middle hitter Lydia Prevost said. “Everyone has a place. Anyone can play at anytime.”
If you look back at the boards, almost every player has put the word “positive” in her grid. Positivity on and off the court has been the biggest emphasis this season, and you won’t find a player who says it’s not the biggest difference in what has been Centre Volleyball’s best regular season under Coach Neyhouse.
“Our team is playing a lot better together,” sophomore outside hitter Beth Cecil said. “We’ve built each other up so much, there’s a lot of positivity that flows through [the team] this year.”
The Colonels’ talent may be constant from last year to this year, but everything about the team’s attitude has changed. Coach Neyhouse credits seniors Kimberly Lownds, Kary Stivers, Lydia Prevost, and Catherine Janszen as leaders in changing the culture of Centre Volleyball. Even then, the seniors are quick to admit that the change in chemistry has been team-wide.
“It’s everyone that’s been supportive of each other. There’s no hostility about playing time, anything. It’s a really positive atmosphere,” senior rightside hitter Kimberly Lownds said.
Whether it’s a diving sideline dig or a failed bump that sails towards the stands, the players are all smiles. A point scored during a practice scrimmage can lead to a deafening roar In the snug Alumni Gym. Is atmosphere really all it takes to compete for a conference championship?
“Spread positive energy. We know it’s going to win games,” Cecil said. “Last year, we’d beat ourselves by simply being negative.”
At 12-2 in conference games, the Colonels are going into the SAA tournament as the second seed. The top seed, Berry College, is the team who’s given Centre its only two losses in conference play.
Ask the players and they’ll tell you that they prepare game-by-game. Mention Berry and they’ll laugh. When asked about a potential matchup with Berry in the SAA conference championship game, senior setter Kary Stivers offered Berry slight praise before changing the subject to Centre’s opening round game with Sewanee.
Berry may be “just another game,” but it’s obvious the Colonels have unfinished business with the regular season champions. The goal of the season is unanimously “to win the conference,” but the seniors envision something larger.
“We’ve talked about establishing ourselves. We want to keep it going,” Lownds said.
Maybe it’s because the seniors don’t want their season to end in the SAA Conference Tournament, and with an early season win over then-Top 25 Washington and Lee, Centre has a chance to make it to the NCAA tournament with a conference tournament championship.
The seniors don’t want their legacy to end with this season. The top right corner of the Weekly Will-Powers board has nine letters: “OCB. BTH. GKA.”
The letters have been in the program for two decades. They’re what motivate the players before each game they play, but none of the players will tell you what it means; some motivation is supposed to be internal. By the end of the season, Centre Volleyball will be someone. They’ll be whatever they want to be.