Underclassmen Step Up for Tiger Volleyball

Olivet Nazarene University’s volleyball team extended its win streak to seven games on Friday as they knocked out conference opponent, Judson University, in a hard-fought, 3-1 set win. However, as impressive as the ONU Tigers’ record may be so far, the real story lies in the makeup of this team and its intriguing roster.

When watching an ONU volleyball game, many spectators are quick to point out the leaders of the team. Junior Alex Ewalt (Danvers, Ill.) ranks in the top 20 in National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) division II for total dig rankings; senior Jeslyn Roat (Greenview, Ill.) leads the team in kills. Even so, a few heads are turning towards the underclassmen as they are starting to make names for themselves.

“We only have seven underclassmen,” Roat said. “But all seven of them play a vital part in our rotation.” Sophomore Kassidy Heeringa (Normal, Ill.) and freshman Sylvia Daun (Sherwood, Wis.) have propelled the Tigers through the season by leading the team in serve percentages (93.4%, 92.9%).

Coach Brenda Williams spoke highly of her underclassmen athletes that have stepped up to meet the challenge of competing at this level. “Right now, we have freshman starting that were thrown into those roles unexpectedly,” Williams said.

An example of one such freshman is starting setter, Kayleigh Kastelein (Dunlap, Ill.). “She wasn’t expecting to walk in and be starting setter,” Williams said. “Now, we’re running a 5-1 offense with her.” Kastelein has been named Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference Setter of the Week twice this season and ranks in the top 25 in NAIA division II for total assists. She represents the instrumental role that the underclassmen have played on this Tiger volleyball team.

ONU will be counting on them just as much as the upperclassmen with upcoming conference games in the month of October. When asked about her role on the team, Kastelein cited the mounting pressure she faces as both a freshman and the team’s only setter.

“Getting thrown into that starting position and not having that mentor was kind of tough and nerve-racking,” Kastelein said. “It’s a lot of pressure on me because if I have a bad game, there’s no one behind me to come in. I still know the team’s got my back.”

The veterans on the team have considered it their responsibility to take care of the younger Tigers as they find their footing in college life. “The most important things are this: one, making sure they feel welcome and supported. And two, encouraging them both on and off the court…Not only are [the underclassmen] adjusting to playing volleyball at a higher level, but they’re also just adjusting to college” Roat said.

The coach and players have all used words like “chemistry” and “unity” when describing this team, and that is exactly what the integration of the classes reflects about this team as they sail into conference play with a record of fifteen wins and eight losses.

Photo from ONUTigers.com

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