As the spring semester comes to a close and the men’s tennis and women’s swimming and diving teams celebrate their respective Conference Championships, players and coaches on fall sport teams are just starting to get ready for a new season despite not being able to practice as a team over the summer.
The women’s cross country team enjoyed what head coach Evelyn Freeman describes as an “extremely rewarding” season given the fact that the team often felt like underdogs.
“We pretty much peaked right where we wanted to, which was at Conference,” Freeman said.
The women would go on to win Conference and then have a strong showing at Regionals, where Alosha Southern ’17 earned All-Region honors by finishing 32nd on a very tough course. Despite having such a strong season and a solid recruiting effort over the off-season, Freeman noted that this upcoming season promises to be competitive.
“There are a number of the teams in the Conference, St. Norbert and Cornell, who looked particularly strong and they are having a phenomenal track season and those two, and maybe even Lawrence, will give us a run for our money,” Freeman said.
The women’s tennis team is also ready for a competitive season that promises to be exciting. This past fall, the Pioneers were notably weaker than in the previous season in which they won Conference, as four starters graduated in the spring of 2014. Furthermore, one of the Pioneers’ top players, Shanaz Daneshdoost ’17, was forced to sit the season due to a leg injury.
“Even so, our team played remarkably in its stretch run of conference play, posting 9-2 record,” wrote head coach Andy Hamilton ’85 in an email to The S&B.
Looking ahead to next season, Hamilton expects the Pioneers to remain in the top two or three of the Midwest Conference despite the fact that No. 1 player Shirlene Luk ’15 will be graduating.
“We will create expectations and goals early in the season when we come together, but as the leader of the program I always expect us to challenge for the Midwest Conference title,” Hamilton wrote.
On Saturday, Sept. 27, last fall, the Pioneer football team hosted Macalester College at Rosenbloom Field. Macalester would end up winning the Midwest Conference Championships later in the season and Grinnell would finish second-to-last in the Conference, yet the Pioneers held their own despite their underdog status.
“They were the Conference Champions and their toughest regular season game was versus us,” said head coach Jeff Pedersen ’02.
David Ternes ’15 and Richard Renteria ’15, who both played an integral part in the Macalester game and the Pioneers’ season as a whole, will graduate this spring and the Pioneers will no doubt be hurt without them next season. Despite this, Pedersen is confident that Grinnell has the potential to go on a streak, get hot and win Conference in the fall.
“With college guys, with the Division III level, with this age of kids, you get the momentum going and that can do some pretty cool things. It’s just about getting the right group that wins early and gets confident and takes off,” Pedersen said.
The importance of confidence in leading to a successful season was a sentiment shared by many coaches of fall sports in Grinnell. In particular, head volleyball coach Jackie Hutchison noted that over the off-season, the women on the team have been working on becoming confident in their role on the team.
“Each woman came up with an essence of what she’s about on the team … to really get them in that process of ‘This is why I am here. I am here because I bring this unique thing and my team depends on me to bring my gifts so we can all get better,’” Hutchison said.
This is just one of the things that the Pioneer volleyball players need to do in order to have a more successful season in the fall.
“I would say the team underperformed last season and I feel like the team would agree with that,” Hutchison said.
More concretely, Hutchison mentioned how the volleyball team, who finished the season 8-20 last fall, needs to get better next season at learning from their losses. In addition to this, the new recruits of the team, who she describes as all being “attackers,” thrill Hutchison and will hopefully make the Pioneers dangerous next season.
As noted by head football coach Pedersen, however, anything can happen at the Division III level, and only by watching the fall season unfold can we get a sense of how all these teams are preforming.