Fall of 2020 is my first season without volleyball in over eleven years. I began playing at the age of nine and quickly fell in love. Since then, the sport has consumed my life, and I can scarcely remember a time without it. I played on my high school varsity team for three years as well as competitive travelling ball for over five. Near the end of high school, I was recruited to play as a right side hitter for the Pratt Women’s team. I’ve enjoyed playing every fall and was devastated about the cancellation of my junior season as a result of the ongoing pandemic. It separated me from a program and a group of people that I hold very close to my heart.
Pratt athletics is an unknown subject to many students. As art and design kids, we’re not supposed to be athletic, let alone dedicated to a sport. But the fact is, our athletics program offers seven competitive sports teams for roughly 175 athletes of all genders. We’ve recently legitimized our program by becoming part of the NCAA Division III organization in New York. We’re one of two NCAA qualified art and design schools in the nation. Our community is small and tight-knit. I can recognize a Pratt athlete almost anywhere on campus. We’re often seen in warm-up gear or with our signature black athletics bag as we race to practice after an evening lecture. We all share a common understanding of what it’s like to manage a tight practice and studio schedule.
The volleyball team, however, may be the most tight-knit group of them all. We’re often attributed to the likeness of a cult or sorority. On past teams, I’ve often been excluded and ignored. As an introverted athlete, it’s incredibly rare to find a team that brings me out of my shell. At Pratt, I’m loud, happy and positive when at practice. I danced with my teammates on our long bus rides to out-of-state tournaments and screamed the lyrics of “Bohemian Rhapsody” at the top of my lungs. These people are my family, and I always feel comfortable around them.
In our 2019 season, the Pratt Women’s volleyball team broke school records. With our diverse and talented group of 22 girls, we won 20 matches and lost eight. We made it to the finals of the ACAA Conference Championships and maintained a 13-game winning streak throughout the season. We had much success and committed countless hours to the program, yet many of our classmates and professors remained oblivious to the fact that our athletic program even existed. Any attempt to gain support was met with disinterest from non-athletes. The Pre-Game Tailgate in our 2019 season (with free food and merchandise) offered hope with a decent turnout. Of course, the majority of our fans were fellow Pratt athletes. This is a testament to the community that Pratt athletics fosters. As student athletes, we have to face the reality of playing a sport at an art school. A heavy workload often takes priority.
For me, it was never about the support. I thrive in this athletic program like I’ve never thrived before. In the past, I struggled with my mental fortitude in the game. I played on a wide variety of high-level teams where I was often overlooked due to my lack of consistency. I was always considered to have the “potential” to be a great player, yet my coaches never invested enough time in me. As a result, I spent many tournaments on the bench with shot confidence.
When I arrived at Pratt my freshman year, I was nervous about playing, but was determined to show my team what I was capable of. My coach, Louis Sepulveda, gave me an opportunity that I needed, and I played in nearly every match of the season. In the end, I had accumulated a total of 190 kills and 58 service aces. I was awarded the title of “Rookie of the Year” for 2018. This was the first time I had been recognized for my commitment to volleyball in my entire life.
As I reflect on my experience as a Pratt athlete in the wake of a pandemic, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude. I’ve spent the last month reclaiming my love of volleyball at home in Minnesota. I attend an open gym every Wednesday, where I play with strangers on a men’s net. I always come home with a smile on my face, and I cry tears of joy at the thought of reuniting with my teammates at Pratt when this is all over. I’ve been so blessed to be a part of this program for the last two years and I only hope that our season will continue for my senior year. At the end of the day, sports are more than a recreational game: they are about drive, commitment and comradery. Pratt volleyball encompasses all three.
Photo by Maddie Markley