FROM THE GROUND UP
Nov. 18, 2009
BOSTON, MA - For anyone who watched a UMass Boston volleyball match during the 2009 season, it's hard to put into words exactly how special this team was. Even the squad had trouble summing up their feelings on the incredible run the Beacons had all throughout the fall. As the leaves turned from green to yellow, records were broken inside the Clark Athletic Center, history was made in between the lines of the court, legacies were left behind, and in the end; a reputation had been engraved within the UMass Boston Athletic Department for the first time in a long time.
The electrifying season started out in the sunshine of Claremont, California where the Beacons faced off against some of the nation's most competitive Division III schools in the Pacific Coast Classic. After four spirited matches, the UMass Boston team found itself with a very respectable 2-2 record, but more importantly, a boatload of confidence heading back to the East Coast.
"The California tournament really set the bar for us this year," said sophomore setter and tri-captain Cassy Hanneman (Denver, CO). "Playing against some of the best teams in the country showed us all what we were capable of doing. We came home from that trip excited about what we had going for us."
They must have been excited because after returning to Boston, the Beacons rattled off 11 consecutive victories, 13 in total including the two wins from California, to jump out to the program's best start in school history with a 13-2 mark. During the streak, the group captured the Brandeis Invitational championship and defeated quality opponents in Trinity College (CT), Tufts University, and then nationally ranked Williams College. During the streak, the Beacons set a program record winning 24 consecutive sets and received attention in the American Volleyball Coaches Association national poll, collecting votes for the first time in school history.
"This season we surpassed all expectations that anyone had for us," said freshman libero Bethany Rossoll (Colorado Springs, CO). "The success we had was based on everyone's hard work from the beginning all the way to the end. It also didn't hurt having two amazing seniors leading the way."
Those two seniors were outside hitters Kate White (Plymouth, MA) and Kate McWhorter (Bakersfield, CA). The duo was fierce and combined for over 47 percent of the teams kills but more importantly, served as leaders for the young squad both on and off the court.
"Here are two amazing players and all around great people that are going to be so hard to replace," said sophomore middle hitter Ali McMinn (Plymouth, MA). "They set the bar so high and were great leaders. We're so fortunate to have had the opportunity to play with them and they will certainly be missed."
Hanneman added that, "these seniors have left a big legacy in the UMass Volleyball program. They were such a major part of our offense and team, it's almost like they're both irreplaceable."
McWhorter transferred to UMass Boston last season after a stint in the Division I circuit at California State University Bakersfield. In her two years with the Beacons, the southpaw outside hitter recorded 978 kills, the fourth highest total in a two year span in the history of the Little East Conference. She owns the program record for kills in a season with 493 and stands behind only White in the category of career kills while owning the career best hitting percentage at .374.
"I'm just so fortunate to have had the opportunity to be a part of this program," said McWhorter. "We came out this season and took care of business and it means a lot. A conference title is the type of high note that any senior could hope to end their career on, I'm definitely walking out of here with no regrets and a huge smile on my face. It feels really good."
For the second consecutive season McWhorter was named the LEC Offensive Player of the Year and was a first team All-Conference selection. Her numbers this season earned the senior recognition as a Third Team All-American selection, the highest honor any UMass volleyball player has ever received.
"Kate [McWhorter] was one of the best things that happened to this school," said McMinn. "She's not only an amazing athlete but a great person as well. Every team can only dream of a player like her and we were lucky enough to have her be a part of our team for two seasons."
White leaves behind a legacy of her own, having compiled 88 wins over her four years with the program, the highest total of any volleyball player over a four year span at UMass Boston. She owns the career kills record (1191), career matches played record (127), career sets played (435), and total attacks in a career (2950). She was a part of the foundation that helped the program develop to where it stands today.
"She's been here from the beginning of this new era of UMass Volleyball," said teammate Jennifer Wong (Fremont, CA). "Our success this season goes all the way back to the years she spent helping the program grow to where it is today. She stuck out some tough years and helped put UMass Boston on the map."
Neither athlete will ever be completely replaced but the Beacons were extremely fortunate to bring in a very talented freshmen class that included middle hitter Shannon Thompson (Moorpark, CA). Thompson was named the LEC Rookie of the Year after collecting 420 kills and hitting .338 on the season. Along with McWhorter, Thompson was named to the AVCA New England All-Region team, one of only 10 freshmen to receive the honor across the country. If that recognition wasn't enough, the rookie was also named an All-American Honorable Mention for her incredible campaign.
"This year was amazing," said Thompson. "The team came in on day one with a goal to go out and win the Little East Conference and because we worked hard, we were fortunate enough to reach our goal. Next year we're shooting for nothing less and will work harder to go even further."
The mastermind behind all of the success for the Beacons leads back to one important piece of the puzzle, Head Coach Terry Condon. In her fifth season, Condon has now racked up 95 wins, which ranks first all-time in the program's history. A brilliant recruiter, Condon watched her squad roll through the Little East this year to capture the first regular season and tournament championships. A former All-American herself, Condon's passion for the game shows in the effort she's able to extract from each of her athletes every single match they step on the court.
"Coach is the true leader of this team," said Wong. "You don't always have good coaches, but when it comes to Terry, she's phenomenal. She looks at players for what they can do and doesn't try to make you into something that you can't be. With her, it's about getting the most out of each of us, as an individual, so that it adds to the team."
Following back-to-back midseason losses to Tufts and Endicott College, Condon was quick to get the Beacons back on track to focus on the goals they'd set before the season began. After the two losses, the team rolled off 17 straight wins, setting a new program record for consecutive victories and total wins (30).
McMinn added that, "Coach cares so much about the program that it makes the team care that much more. She knows her stuff and recognizes the potential we all have as players, and then is somehow able to get all of that potential out of us on the court when it matters. It's really amazing, she's amazing."
After leading the Beacons to a perfect 7-0 record in Little East Conference play and guiding the team to the program's first NCAA Tournament appearance, Condon was named the AVCA's New England Region Women's Volleyball Coach of the Year for the first time in program history. She was also named the NEWVA (New England Women's Volleyball Association) Coach of the Year.
"The program took a huge step this season," said Condon. "The kids played very well all the way down to the very end. It's been about moving forward and after this year we will get more respect throughout New England."
For the Beacons, the record setting season came to an abrupt end in the second round of the NCAA tournament against Williams. Some may say that all good things must come to an end, but for the Beacons, this loss was just the beginning of something bigger. "After the initial shock and disappointment, you have to stand back and look at all we accomplished this season and how far we came in only one year," said Hanneman. "Losing is never fun, but we're not going to just pretend like it never happened. We'll use this loss as motivation during the offseason and just work that much harder, push ourselves that much further so that next season we'll be back in a similar situation and be able to win."
Last year, UMass Boston found itself one point away from the program's first Little East Conference title, but fell to Keene State College in the championship game, 3-2. The Beacons used the loss as fuel to drive them all throughout the season and plan to use the Williams game as similar motivation this offseason.
"They're hungry, hungrier than last year," said Condon. "Last year when we lost to Keene they worked hard so they wouldn't have to feel the way they did again. This offseason we're going to continue to get better just like we did last year. Strength and conditioning will be key component and they'll start to work on becoming smarter all around players when it comes to developing more shots, and their shot selection."
When asked to describe the 2009 campaign in a word or two, the Beacons came up with things like; progressive, fun, proud, exciting, new expectations and unforgettable.
When asked about their teammates during the run, they came up with statements like; simply amazing, a cohesive unit, tight-knit, my best friends, a sisterhood, and my other family.
That's what made this group so special. The bond that they were able to form on and off the court made them come together when it counted. Yes, the season came to a close a little too soon for their liking, but now the program is making stride after stride in the right direction.
This team put UMass Boston Volleyball on the map, and if they have any say it the matter, will work hard to keep it there.
Congratulations, Beacons on an amazing season.