Women’s volleyball team is small but mighty

The Occidental volleyball team plays against The Master's College at Occidental College in Eagle Rock, CA. Sept. 6, 2022. Alex Lin/The Occidental

Though the academic year has just begun, student-athletes are already balancing their performance in the classroom and on the court. Among those student-athletes are members of the Occidental women’s volleyball team, who began practicing in August and had their first match Sept. 2. They have competed in six pre-season matches, winning two.

The team is just nine players strong, including five first years. According to Kat Chodaczek (senior), the team lost several players from last year’s team.

“We lost 4 seniors last year and we had a few people quit just for personal reasons,” Chodaczek said via email.

According to Eliana Channell (first year), one of the biggest adjustments from high school to college has been time management.

“It’s definitely a change,” Channell said. “I did it in high school, but there’s a lot more to do outside of classes. Learning time management has been crucial.”

Volleyball player Eliana Channell (first year) at Occidental College in Los Angeles, CA. Sept. 13, 2022. Ethan Dulaney/The Occidental

According to Chodaczek, the team was nervous heading into their first matchup against Whitman College, but they were able to come together to earn the victory.

“The team we played was pretty tough, but we pulled it together and worked hard,” Chodaczek said. “It was our first game so we were all nervous, but it was really good.”

Though the team is small by collegiate volleyball standards, Chodaczek and Channell said there are benefits to having a smaller group of players.

“Everyone has gotten the time to shine,” Chodaczek said. “All of the freshmen are getting playing time, which is unusual.”

Channell said the team has bonded quickly, which has improved their chemistry on the court.

“We gel really well. At our first tournament, it looked like we had been playing together for a while,” Channell said. “It was really nice to see everything that we had worked towards come together in a game setting.”

Heather Collins, head coach of the women’s volleyball team, said her team possesses a strong spirit.

“We may be young and lacking a deep bench, but our team is scrappy and committed to giving everything we have on the court!” Collins said via email.

Chodaczek is the only senior on the team, a position which she said initially made her nervous.

“It was really scary at first being the only senior. Senior night will be fun because it’s just me,” Chodaczek said. “I don’t feel isolated from the rest of the team since we’re all so close.”

For her last season at Occidental, Chodaczek said she hopes to do well in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SCIAC).

“I also hope the younger players are having a good time and continue to improve and enjoy being on the team,” Chodaczek said.

Channell said she shares similar goals for the team and wants to make sure Chodaczek has a great last season.

“It would be really cool going to nationals, especially being as small as we are,” Channell said. “Being the tiny triumphant team would be really cool, especially to give Kat that last hurrah.”

Collins said that she has been proud of the fight her team has shown thus far, as they have competed hard in each match.

“I am most excited about playing hard-fought sets like the other night against Santa Cruz where we battled back only to lose 30-32,” Collins said. “Although we lost, our team showed perseverance and mental fortitude as we grappled for every point.”

According to Channell, improving communication should be an area of focus for the team while they are still in the early part of their season.

“I think learning to communicate would be an essential, vital part of the growth that we go through,” Channell said. “We’ll be able to feed off of each other’s energy a lot more.”

Although she wants the team to be successful, Channell said she is even more focused on getting closer as a group and being there for one another.

“I’m most excited about learning about my team and navigating college with volleyball,” Channell said. “I want to be there for my teammates and encourage them on and off the court. I want to play my best and put 100 percent in.”