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Chemeketa Volleyball team storms into playoffs

The Chemeketa Storm women’s volleyball team on the court at a recent home game.
Photo by Megan Stewart.

There are many things that college students ignore: course credit hours, their alarm for an 8 a.m. class, snapchats from a doe-eyed classmate who just can’t take a hint. However, Chemeketa attendees be warned: the 2017 Storm volleyball team should not be one of them.

Currently first in league and second in conference, the Chemeketa women’s volleyball team has not only secured a spot in the playoffs, but also has a strong chance of winning the entire NWAC championship. As of now, they hold an impressive record of 10 wins and one loss, succumbing only to Linn-Benton Community College during their first home game, a rival they defeated less than a month later. It is an extraordinary season for the Storm, who, despite their small roster and height average, have managed to beat teams with greater advantages.

What’s their secret? According to many of the women, their success can be attributed to a strong work ethic and an unusually solid team bond.  

“Honestly the biggest difference from this year and last year is our chemistry as a team,” Morgan Bolger, a defensive specialist and sophomore captain, said. “This is one of the best teams I’ve ever played with, not just skill-wise, but it really helps that we all get along on and off the court, and we all have that same drive and goal.”

Unique circumstances helped thrust them together early in the season. When practices started in August, around five of the freshmen hadn’t acquired apartments yet and had to room with each other for weeks at a time. Along with daily triples, which also expanded several weeks, the whole team ended up having to spend most of their mornings and afternoons as a group. Overtime, they became more than teammates. They became family.

“One of the big things [that makes us strong] is we play selflessly,” Lauren Kerlegan, a freshman outside hitter, said. “If we make a mistake that’s really selfish of us, Traci does a good job of pointing that out and telling us that … we’re not playing for everyone else.”

Traci Stephenson, the women’s volleyball head coach, also has high expectations regarding fitness. In pre-season, daily triples consisted of weights at 8 a.m., two-hour practices from 10 a.m. to noon, and then a three-hour practice from 1-4 p.m. Once classes started, Stephenson moved lifting to 6:30 a.m. and practices to every other day, shortening them to just 2 ½ hours long.

“Our coach said to play … like you’re a person and a half,” Bolger said. “In practice, you’re putting forth 120% into everything we do and into all of our drills.”

The Chemeketa Storm’s fortitude and dedication has garnered individual team members numerous awards as well. Freshman Jane Cale earned Setter of the Week six times throughout the season. In October, Cale also won MVP of the Edmonds Crossover Tournament. Additionally, Bolger, Kerlegan, and outside hitter Haley Patterson received NWAC ‘Of the Week’ awards at different times in the season. Bolger and Patterson were both acknowledged for their defensive successes, while Kerlegan won for her contributions in offense.

While only some players have been singled out for their success, there seems to be a general consensus among the athletes that everyone contributes in some way to the team. There are many different facets of the game, Kerlegan said, and every player has a specialized area in which they excel more than the others. A person’s performance, she added, also depends on the game, as each member has had their share of good and bad plays.  

“Literally everyone is pretty equal,” Cale said.

While some top tier sports teams might relax near the end of the regular season, the Chemeketa Storm is arguably working harder than ever to prepare for playoffs. Depending on their schedule and how far they go, the women may face their toughest competition: North Idaho Community College, who is ranked first in conference, and Pierce Community College, who beat them in the NWAC Fall Festival.

“Our number one goal for playoffs is to just win,” Bolger said. “We’ve been having such an incredible season so far … I think that if we just keep going and playing at the level that we’re at right now, and we all just have the mindset and the same goals of just winning NWAC … I think we can do really well.”

Regional playoffs take place November 11-12, and the NWAC Championships run November 17-20.