PASADENA (Aug. 31, 2018) – Caltech volleyball may have ended last season's SCIAC schedule with the most significant victory in program history, but the 2018 Beavers are hungry to move on from their previous SCIAC woes and become more competitive with the rest of the conference. With six new players joining the program in a recruiting class that is no less than comparable to last year's group, this year's team is looking to put the mental woes of the past behind them and string some wins together in Head Coach Tom Gardner's fourth season.
"This year there's definitely more swagger with so many new bodies and minds," Gardner said. "The memory isn't there of when we weren't winning. We just have a different mindset. Listening to our players talk, it's not, 'let's get a win this year.' Instead, it's, 'let's win a lot this year.' Hopefully, early on we'll have the challenges to prove to ourselves just how good of a team we can be."
Sophomore Krystyna Maruszko (Redondo Beach, Calif. / Marymount) leads the list of Caltech returners, coming off a season where she led the team in assists while also chipping in with 122 kills, good for second on the roster. Moreover, Maruszko played arguably her best game of the season when it mattered most, accounting for 22.5 points while giving the Beavers 14 kills, 20 assists and 25 digs in the historic first-ever SCIAC win against the University of Redlands. Junior Lauren Li (Bellaire, Texas / Bellaire) will also be asked to play meaningful points on the outside once again as one of three returning players to reach triple-digit kills. Last year's libero, Allessandra Mondello (Kinnelon, N.J. / Villa Walsh Acad.), and opposite hitter Christine Yu (Fremont, Calif. / Mission San Jose) are expected to play key roles once again and junior Ellie Walker's (Minneapolis, Minn. / Blake School) setting ability will come in handy especially when Maruszko needs to shift to attack mode.
Now, it's up to the returners to mesh with a group of newcomers who could be immediate difference-makers within the program.
"There's still a bit of a learning curve," Gardner said. "I think one of the most difficult areas to mesh are middle blockers and setters; just finding those connections since we have two new middles who are potentially going to be program-changers. It's still going to take a little more time to establish the connection we want."
The middle blockers to whom Gardner refers are rookies Alison Noyes (Falmouth, Maine / Falmouth) and Sydney Richardson (Granite Bay, Calif. / Roseville), who come to Pasadena as the first- and second-tallest members on the team. Their size should immediately change the way the Beavers play in 2018. Additionally, Caltech has added another talented libero in Megan Wang (Henderson, Nev. / Advanced Technologies Academy), another setter-opposite utility player in Alexandra Frymire (Dallas, Texas / Greenhill), and outside weapons Alexandra Klipfel (Agua Dulce, Calif. / Saugus) and Hannah Fan (Saratoga, Calif. / Saratoga). All of the new players will have a chance to mix in right away, but only if the chemistry is right. However, the Beavers by all accounts have had a productive offseason, which should only aid the transition for all parties.
"In the offseason, all the players seem to have worked hard in the weight room to get stronger and we came in with a better starting point than previously," Gardner said. "It's a game where more experience helps. The more touches you have the better you are."
As much talent as Caltech has added overnight, last year's team learned that no win comes easy, as well as the importance of finishing matches. Having the right amount of momentum at the right time allowed the Beavers to knock off Redlands at the end of the season, gaining the program's elusive first SCIAC victory. This year, Caltech will have ample opportunity to gain some confidence and perhaps even some wins in non-conference play before the first SCIAC match on Sept. 14 at Whittier College. At the end of the day, Gardner and the Beavers are merely looking to improve statistically by every metric, which in time, could allow for bigger goals to come into focus as the team looks to chip away into the next tier of SCIAC teams.
"I don't believe in rebuilding," Gardner said. "We have never been at a level that I can say we have 'arrived,' so to speak. We're still in those building stages but every year should be a little bit better statistically and in the win column. It's not going to be easy to say we got better as far as our outcomes but statistically we just strive to improve in every area."
Gardner and the Beavers will open the season with an exhibition match on Friday, Aug. 31 at Marymount California University before kicking off the regular season with a doubleheader with Providence Christian College at Life Pacific College.