Even as a casual observer, it’s hard to ignore St. Olaf Volleyball’s outstanding start to the season. At 19-3, the program boasts its best opening record since 2010, when they reached the regional finals of the Division III Tournament. This week, coming off a win against 11th-ranked Augsburg, the team only sees the upside in its future.
The Oles’ success comes as a surprise to outsiders. The program came into the season with middling projections, placing sixth in the Preseason Coaches’ Poll for the MIAC, but their play this fall has surpassed all expectations.
Defensive Specialist/Libero Emily Jarnigan ’20 said the team thrives with a chip on its shoulder.
“We play well with that mentality of wanting to prove something,” Jarnigan said.
She isn’t surprised by the team’s success, acknowledging that “a lot of people tend to underestimate our team.”
A closer look at their play this year reveals the unified effort and fearless attitude that allows the Oles to compete so effectively regardless of expectations. From preseason preparation to in-game communication, Ole volleyball fosters a culture of support and dedication. In a team saturated with talented players, no single individual is held accountable for the successes or failures of any given game. Instead, the team enjoys victories together and takes responsibility for losses as a whole.
Head coach Emily Foster, who holds a Master’s degree in sports psychology, emphasizes the mental aspect of the game to her players. She stresses the importance of understanding one’s own strengths, as well as those of every member of the team, which allows each player to be aware of their teammates’ needs. It’s an attitude that sets St. Olaf apart from other schools and gives the team an edge in high-pressure situations.
Foster also cultivates an environment which respects and energizes each player.
“She’s not coaching one particular type of person,” Jarnigan said. “She tailors it for whatever she believes that person needs.”
Though the Oles had a slow start within the MIAC – they began inter-conference play 0-2, losing to nationally-ranked St. Thomas in four sets and Gustavus Adolphus in three – they followed those early losses with victories against St. Catherine and Augsburg.
“We want it so badly that we put a lot of pressure on ourselves to really execute in those games,” Jarnigan said regarding high-stakes scenarios, such as competition within the MIAC. “When you put that much pressure on yourselves you kind of crumble and can’t play to the best of your abilities.”
After their recovery from the early conference losses with a win against a ranked MIAC opponent, a correction of these attitudes appears to be taking place. As the season progresses it becomes more and more difficult to ignore those pressures and stay in the moment. Even as Jarnigan and the rest of the team continue to play one point at a time, they have high expectations for the year, and with the end of the season growing ever closer, competing in nationals is certainly on every player’s mind.