Drake University’s first-year volleyball players’ roles on the team so far  

One of the most popular part of going to college for the first time is the freedom that comes with it. While students may find many benefits of this freedom, they may also struggle when it comes to keeping up with schoolwork. But for some students, finding this balance can be even more of a struggle if they join the athletics program as well.

This is the case for four members of the Drake University volleyball team. Danielle Pioske, Caitlyn Smith, Riley Dolphin and McKenzie Smith are all first years that are on the volleyball roster.

The team also consists of three seniors, three juniors and six sophomores. But even though all the other classes had had experience playing with each other, the first years did not feel like they were at a disadvantage coming in.

First Foreign Tour

This was because by the time the school year started, they had already gained experience playing with their team members in Costa Rica. The team had gone on a “foreign tour” over the summer to practice with each other.

“We had an extra month, basically, to learn the basics and get that out of the way, and I think we’re really close, and that trip helped bring us together and have fun together,” first year Caitlyn Smith said.

The team also had the opportunity to play against the Costa Rican national and junior national teams.

“We went four and oh while we were there,” Smith said. “It was a good start to the season. The national team was obviously the best team so we considered that a big win for us to start out the season.”

Started Off Strong

The volleyball team now has 20 games under their belt, with an impressive 14-6 record. Some team members, like first year Danielle Pioske, attribute this in part to their foreign tour.

“We went into the season then having that head start. Instead of going into the preseason being the first time playing together, we had traveled internationally, and spent hours hiking and living with each other, so we already had that edge forward,” Pioske said.

The foreign tour is not the only reason that the players have become so close. The returning members of the team also went out of their way to be inclusive to the new members.

“The players were quick to break us out of our shells,” Smith said. “It was awkward at first, but then, I don’t know, they’d get you to bring your sass out so then you know they’re comfortable with you”

Warm Welcome

They were also helpful outside of just athletics, according to Pioske.

“I think just in general the girls are very welcoming and inclusive,” Pioske said. “So if for preseason, we’re all going to go out and eat somewhere, or somebody’s going to a movie they’ll message the group, so we’re kind of all included.”

With the added strain of college classes to deal with, Pioske finds this inclusion very helpful. Adjusting to higher level courses is already difficult without daily practices and frequent competitive matches, some of which are out of state.

“In season is very busy, because if I’m not traveling or practicing, I’m at class or studying, just trying to stay on top of everything,” Pioske said.

For Pioske, this means a lot of stress. Luckily, she finds that volleyball is great way to relieve that tension.

Stress Relief

“It can go both ways. There’s definitely times when volleyball can be stressful, but it’s a time that’s set apart every day that I can go and leave whatever’s going on, either socially or academically,” Pioske said.

Volleyball by itself can be particularly stressful due to the competitive nature of the sport. Not just against other teams, too. There are many players aiming to get on the starting lineup, which can cause a lot of tension. However, Pioske does not consider this to be a bad thing.

“One thing that we do well in our gym is that it’s a very competitive atmosphere,” Pioske said. “So every spot is being fought for in practice, you work hard every day. If you really want to get on the court and you work hard in practice, and let the coach know ‘I’ve really been working hard, what can I improve on,’ it’s really anybody’s game.”



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