Volleyball looks to secure conference title and home court

by Robbie LehmanStaff Writer

At 18-12 overall and 6-0 in the Iowa Conference, the Simpson volleyball team is happy but not satisfied. Their sights are set on bigger and better things.

“Our biggest goal is to win the conference and the conference tournament,” junior middle hitter Whitney Oviatt said. “We have other goals, but our focus is on that for now. We obviously want to go to regionals and nationals and be successful. I see a lot of potential.”

Junior setter Tara Christensen took it one step further. Winning the conference is not a goal to her, but rather an expectation.

“I expect us to win the conference,” Christensen said. “I’ll be disappointed if we don’t win it.”

While Christensen set the bar high from the start, head coach Lana Smith was uncertain what the season would bring when it began.

“When the season opened, we knew we were going to have a very competitive schedule,” Smith said. “We didn’t know what to expect other than we knew we had a good core group with experience. But the girls have exceeded expectations. We are really pleased to be 6-0 in the conference but we have a tough road ahead of us.”

The Storm are confident in themselves and their teammates. There’s a certain swagger that teams either have or don’t, and the Storm have it this season. It partially comes from a group of girls that trust each other and truly enjoy playing together.

“We’re friends on and off the court,” Oviatt said. “We hang out.Bus rides are always fun. We work well together, and we’re honest. But when work needs to get done, we do it.”

The Storm might be the deepest team in the league, as they have received contributions from just about every player. Christensen once again attests to the closeness of the entire group.

“We mesh really well,” Christensen said. “There are no chemistry problems. We bring out the best in each other when we play and we have fun.”

Riding on the momentum of a huge non-conference win over the University of St. Thomas, a team that had previously been ranked No. 5-in-the-nation and beaten Simpson at their own tournament back in September, the Storm now look forward to a showdown with Loras on Nov. 4 to decide the conference title.

In addition to the conference title, the winner of the regular season earns the right to host the conference tournament at home, a valuable reward for a hard season’s work, and according to Smith, playing at home is worth about two points a set.

“We’d love to have the extra support of all the fans and the home court advantage,” Oviatt said.

A big piece of the team’s puzzle is completed by Christensen, whose play at setter has helped place them in the position they are. She earned Iowa Conference Volleyball Player of the Week for the first week in October, when she was named to the All-tournament team at the Augustana (Ill.) Invitational.

Smith sings the praises of Christensen’s play this season.

“I always say the heartbeat of the team is the setter and the libero because they run the floor,” Smith said. “Tara has been so valuable because she can read the defenses and run the offense. She’s clearly the best setter in the league.”

Christensen’s teammates also know how important she is to their success. The latest updated statistics credit her for 941 assists, well on her way to 1,000 by season’s end.

Consequently, her teammates are all posting impressive kill numbers, as they are on the receiving end of her sets.

“We wouldn’t be as far without her,” said Oviatt, who has 262 kills this season. “She’s so good at placing the ball on her sets where the blockers aren’t.”

Christensen is happy to accept player of the week, but she is focused on the bigger picture: her team and the postseason.

“I want my teammates to know that they can count on me just as I should count on them,” Christensen said. “I think it’s a really cool individual honor, but it’s more about the team. To go to nationals is the best honor to get. That’s my goal and everyone else’s goal too.”