Last season, the Georgetown volleyball team (2-4) had only three returning players. Of the 12 players on the roster, eight were freshmen. As a young and inexperienced team, the Hoyas had an uneven season, finishing 10-21, including a 4-14 record in Big East play.
This season, with nine returning players and a deeper roster that includes 16 players, the Hoyas are hoping to build a stronger team culture and enjoy a more consistent season.
“Last year, we didn’t have as many people to go through the drills and [be] hard- core all the time,” sophomore libero Kenzie Higareda said. “But now that we have a full roster and 16 girls, great girls that try every single day, we are able to do those drills and it makes everyone a lot better.”
So far this season, Georgetown has played two weekend tournaments — the D.C. Challenge and the Stetson/USF Invitational. At each tournament, the Hoyas won one match and lost two. However, Georgetown has won at least one set in five of its six matches, leading Head Coach Arlisa Williams to believe that the team’s defense is one of its main strengths.
“They are all out all the time,” Williams said of her defense. “They’re just going for balls — they don’t let anything drop. They are working super hard behind the block, and our block has gotten better and that’s the first line of defense.”
Higareda, who led the Hoyas in digs last year, again leads the team early in the season with 115 digs. Sophomore setter Paige McKnight is also a capable defender — she is second on the team in digs for the second consecutive season. Up front, Georgetown’s block features sophomore middle blocker Symone Speech and senior middle blocker Ashlie Williams, who are currently Georgetown’s first and second leading blockers, also for the second consecutive season.
In addition to their team leaders in digs and blocks returning, the Hoyas also bring back their top four leaders in kills from last season: Speech, Williams and sophomore outside hitters Liv King and Alyssa Sinette. Georgetown is hoping the increased continuity will bring improved results.
“They understand how each other plays,” Coach Williams said. “They’ve got a very, very good feel for each other. But they also have a year under their belt playing together, so they are communicating more, they understand how to lift each other up and encourage each other.”
Even with a more experienced roster, Georgetown will need to prove itself with success on the court. In the Big East preseason coaches’ poll, the Hoyas were picked to finish eighth in the conference out of 10 teams. Based on its early performance, however, the team believes it can compete with the top teams in the Big East and has set higher expectations.
“It’s going to go up and down obviously, but I think we’ve been really strong,” Ashlie Williams said. “We’re definitely going to be able to compete against Creighton and some of the big hitters out there.”
McKnight is another of the team’s key players. She stepped in as the team’s starting setter at the start of her freshman season, recording 1,137 assists in her debut season. This year, McKnight has stepped back into her role, notching 234 assists in Georgetown’s first six games — no one else on the team has more than five. Coach Williams thinks highly of both McKnight and junior setter Meghan Richard.
“Our setters are extremely talented, both Paige and Meghan do a good job of putting up balls,” Coach Williams said. “And so our hitters are doing a phenomenal job — again when we are in system — of just taking some very, very hard [and] very, very smart swings, and our setters are doing a good job getting them the ball.”
In the next two weekends, the Hoyas will play three more tournaments. This weekend, they will play at home in McDonough Arena in the Georgetown Classic, before travelling to Colorado to play in the Air Force Invitational and the Denver Invitational. The team will then move into Big East play, beginning with a home game against St. John’s (6-0).
“We all love Georgetown. Whenever we travel we’re [all] like we want to come back, so it’s so nice to be in the gym we’re in every day and we’re used to it and it’s home and it’s just where we shed, blood, sweat, tears,” sophomore middle blocker Symone Speech said. “It all happens there so it’ll just be nice ot bring it all out on the floor and have people see what we’ve been working on.”
In the midst of this fast-paced start to the season, Georgetown is confident that it will achieve better results this year.
“Last year we were a completely new team, and so it definitely shows that we’ve been playing together for a while,” Ashlie Williams said. “We’re trusting each other more on the court and things are looking a lot more in flow, so I’m really excited for us to continue to grow as a team.”