By Hayes Gardner
A road trip for an athletic team usually means packing up the bus, driving hours to a Midwestern location to compete against an opponent, packing up the bus and heading home. This past weekend, the Grinnell women’s volleyball team went on a road trip, but it was a bit more fun than usual. The Pioneers spent Thursday, September 6 through Sunday, September 9 in Los Angeles at the Cal Lu Fornia Invitational, competing in four matches against tough teams and enjoying California.
The objective of the trip was two-fold.
“The big goal was that it would help us to build unity … and to see the next level of play,” Coach Jackie Hutchison said.
The players felt that going on a four-day trip with teammates aided in bringing the team together.
“One of the best things about this trip was the fact that it push[ed] us to be around each other,” outside hitter Shelby Carroll ’13 said.
“Especially having it at the beginning of the season helped us bond more,” defensive specialist Dianna Ossa Sierra ’13 said.
Hutchison saw the trip as an opportunity to develop the team’s already-strong chemistry.
“The more you know about your teammates and what makes them tick … the more you can support them when they’re struggling,” she said.
The unity must have helped—the Pioneers believed they played well together.
“We were playing together as a team and I think that is the most important thing,” Ossa Sierra said.
“From Friday until the end of Saturday, there was a definite progression in how we played. By the end, we had come together as a team,” Hutchison said.
The trip also was also instrumental in the fact that the Pioneers challenged themselves by playing against top-tier schools.
“We got to see top 25 [nationally ranked] teams. We got to play them and we got to demonstrate to ourselves that … we are worthy of those opponents,” Hutchison said.
The Pioneers tallied a 1-3 record in California, but they saw the trip as a success due to their improvement and their ability to compete with tough teams.
“We actually rose to the occasion and ended up playing really, really well,” Carroll said.
One of the teams the Pioneers played was nationally-ranked Occidental College from Los Angeles.
“[Occidental] has a lot of talent across the board,” Carroll said.
The Pioneers lost all three sets to the Tigers, though they nearly took the second set from the 23rd ranked team in the country, eventually falling 26-24.
“Even though we didn’t come out with the win, we came out playing like we had never played before,” Carroll said.
Throughout the tournament, the team focused on improvement. Before the games, Coach Hutchison asked the team to write down their goals and then, after the game, reflect on what they could improve on and what they did well.
“We made goals for ourselves for every single game. We had three [team] goals: serve tough and in, have ball control, and play our offense. And I think that we were all focused on doing those goals,” Ossa Sierra said.
Playing against elite teams should help the Pioneers down the road.
“I certainly think it will help us in conference play,” Hutchison said.
The Pioneers have qualified for the Midwest Conference tournament two of the last three years, but this year will be more difficult, as Cornell College is joining the conference. Cornell and St. Norbert College often receive votes for the national rankings.
“It’s not like our conference is a walk in the park,” Hutchison said.
Off the court, the Pioneers stay in Los Angeles was a walk in the park. On Thursday, the team enjoyed West Coast staple In-N-Out Burger and also visited the Griffith Observatory, where they viewed the Hollywood sign and went hiking. That night, the team ate a home-cooked meal at Carroll’s house.
“[We] sat back and relaxed and enjoyed being around my family and friends and everything,” Carroll said.
On Friday and Saturday the team competed, but on Sunday the Pioneers enjoyed the beach at Santa Monica, going on rides and exploring the pier.
“So many great things happened off-the-court for us,” Hutchison said.
On and off the court, the team’s trip was very successful, as they improved and grew closer as a team.
“I’m really glad we got to do this … it was just such an awesome experience,” Carroll said.