Diane Nelson, the Gonzaga women’s volleyball head coach, said if she could choose one word to describe this year’s team it would be focused.
Last season, the team’s record was 11-18 overall and 8-10 in West Coast Conference play. The season ended with a win against the University of Portland.
But this year's team is different from last season, and the differences are already tangible. This team’s dynamic is different from those of past years, and since commencing the season late last month, GU already has four victories.
“[The team is] much more connected, more experienced, and have a clear vision,” Nelson said.
After six seniors graduated last year, underclassmen now compose more than half of the roster. Only two seniors are on the team this year.
Notable underclassmen include freshman Alisa Kim and sophomore Kennedy Croft, who helped lead the team to victory in its last game of the Pentagon Invite tournament against Air Force.
Nelson said that the two seniors on this year’s team, Payton Mack and Jenna Kuehn, are role models for the younger players.
“The seniors are setting a great example of leadership, and modeling tenacity, grit, commitment and fun,” Nelson said.
The leadership from the seniors and the focus of all the players shows that team chemistry is going to be an advantage this season. Nelson also said that their goals for this season include enjoying each other’s success as a group.
“We want to be the very best we can together,” she said.
Another lesson Nelson is trying to implement with the team is learning how to adapt to change. She said this goal is both long-term and short-term, and while it can be uncomfortable, it’s also helpful, especially in a conference like the WCC.
“We are always talking about growth mindset and the uncomfortable feeling of change,” Nelson said. “Adapting to change quickly is a big goal.”
Katelyn Oppio, a redshirt junior from Sparks, Nevada, said fans can expect this year's team to have a fast offense and be incredibly resilient. Oppio had a 0.30 per set average, ranked 10th in the West Coast Conference last season.
This season, Oppio is most excited to play against BYU and Saint Mary’s. Her favorite thing about playing on the volleyball team is how they manage working hard and having a good time together.
“We have a good balance of having fun and being focused,” Oppio said.
So far this season, women’s volleyball won its first game against Central Washington and then moved on to defeat University of Connecticut, the Naval Academy and Air Force at The Pentagon Invite in Arlington, Virginia, this past weekend.
Nelson knows the WCC is a tough conference and said her team’s work is cut out for them. However, she said finishing on top of the WCC conference would be the “icing on the cake” of this season.
“We have the talent, but we are committed to creating a competitive advantage by our connectedness, our discipline, and our grit,” she said.
GU women’s volleyball plays its next home game on Friday against Grand Canyon University in the first game of tournament-style play hosted at the Martin Centre Sept. 6-7.