All close, all clenching, but in the end, all worth it – 29-27, 25-22, 25-23. In a three-set sweep last Friday night, the Swarthmore women’s volleyball team pulled a historic upset against the tenth-ranked Eastern Eagles, becoming only the second Centennial Conference team to defeat an opponent with a top-ten national ranking..
The momentous victory was only the first in a breakthrough record-filled week. Immediately following their win, the team received votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association Division III Top 25 poll – their first votes in the program’s history. The 2012 season is only two weeks into the season, but the Garnet has established itself as one of the contenders in the Centennial Conference.
Friday’s epic match, the 2012 home-opener, began with a tight first set that extended into a grueling tie-break. Expecting a battle with Eastern, the team had prepared all week for high-pressure moments.
“Coach ran us really hard on defense all week in practice to prepare for this, saying not to lay down for them,” Brone Lobichusky ’14 said.
Lobichusky, who led the team in both blocks (7) and service aces (2), added that “it was a good jump start into the season…it’s a huge sure sign of maturity for us and a huge [indicator of] what we expect for the season.”
The extra defensive work paid huge dividends. Speaking to the Garnet Sports Network after the victory, Head Coach Harleigh Chwastyk said “This was a true team effort. We really stepped up our game defensively, every chipped in, and we really finished.
The second set was equally trying with both teams exchanging points, neither refusing to relent. Madison Heppe ’16 sensed the tension of the game, but also the exhilaration. “I tried to keep my head centered more on playing hard rather than making mistakes. I usually end up having more fun that way,” Heppe said.
For her home debut as the starting libero, Heppe admitted, “Going into this first match I was very nervous, especially right before the first serve of the game.” While Heppe may have felt anxious, she certainly masked it beautifully. She ended the night with a team-high eighteen digs, cementing her role as a fresh, formidable player.
The third set was under Garnet control early as the team began with a staggering 9-0 run that ultimately propelled them to their win. Their determination to emerge victorious was palpable days in advance – “[the game] was all we could focus on all week,” admitted Lobichusky. “[One of my teammates] came in to Tuesday practice and said, ‘I couldn’t sleep last night because we’re playing Eastern on Friday!’”
From 2008-2011, the Eagles had lost just 11 times combined in the regular season. Swarthmore’s victory marked the first time in nearly four years that Eastern lost to an un-ranked opponent.
Despite this colossal victory, the team is not ready to relax. “There’s always a lot to improve on – definitely a lot to improve on,” Lobichusky acknowledged. Heppe shared similar sentiments. “I am always looking to improve on aspects of the game […] the one thing that I need to get more comfortable with is being more vocal on the court.”
The team’s next challenge is fast approaching as they will take on York, Kean, FDU-Fordham, and Stevens Institute of Technology at the Stevens Duck Classic this upcoming weekend.
The 2012 team has already set forth on a bold mission, broken down old barriers, and exceeded all expectations. It’s easy to list feat after accomplished feat, but Lobichusky summed it all up in one simple sentence: “We had nothing to lose. I think we left it all on the court.”