FILE PHOTO: NATE MOULTON/THE HOYA Outside hitter Lauren Saar (8) & middle blocker Ashlie Williams (7)
Outside hitter Lauren Saar (8) & middle blocker Ashlie Williams (7)

While universities across the country welcome their newest students to campus in the fall, varsity teams are also welcoming newcomers. From initiating athletes into their teams and their cultures to introducing new players to tougher collegiate competition, the fall season prompts upperclassmen to begin their leadership roles on their respective squads.

For this year’s Georgetown volleyball team (3-4), the standard, universal experience of welcoming and teaching new players will be particularly challenging. Of the 12 players listed on the team’s roster, nine players are first-time Hoyas — leaving only three players returning from last season.

“You always have freshmen coming in, but it’s a little different [of a] situation [this year] because we’re outnumbered,” senior outside hitter Lauren Saar said.

Of the 13 players listed on last year’s roster, six players graduated in May and four eligible players chose not to return this season. This leaves Saar, junior middle blocker Ashlie Williams and junior setter Caitlin Brauneis as the only returning players.

“We knew very early on that we were only going to have three returners,” Head Coach Arlisa Williams said. “The three that have returned — Lauren, Caitlin and Ashlie — have done a phenomenal job, but this is something they started preparing for since last spring, so their ability to lead, their attitude, how positive they are is very, very contagious.”

While the responsibility of leading a young team through its first year at Georgetown is one that the three returners undertook without much choice, Saar expressed her eagerness to take on the challenge and set the building blocks for the revamped volleyball program.

“It’s really exciting having a fresh new start with all of the new freshmen and a transfer that we have, so we really want to take it as an opportunity to create the new culture,” Saar said.

As the team develops its new brand of Georgetown volleyball, the freshmen are ensuring that their early successes and energy will be incorporated into the team culture. Setter Paige McKnight leads the team with 9.15 assists per set and outside hitter Alyssa Sinnette registered a 20-kill and 21-dig effort against Robert Morris (5-2) Sept. 4, which was Georgetown’s first recorded 20-20 performance since 2012. In addition, middle blocker Symone Speech leads the team among players who have played in all 24 sets of the season with a .361 hitting percentage.

“[This recruiting class was] ranked No. 29 by PrepVolleyball out of 332 Division I programs, so we knew that they were going to be a talented class,” Coach Williams said. “As they come in, they’re just stepping on the floor and taking care of business the way that we need them to.”

With several new faces eager to make an impact on the team and Brauneis indefinitely sidelined due to an injury, Coach Williams said that the starting lineup will be flexible as the schedule unfolds.

“As the season goes on, as players get more experienced, as we continue to improve, the six on the floor could very well stay [as] it is right now, but it is fluid and everyone has an opportunity to compete and get better at practice every day,” Coach Williams said.

The Hoyas, who have not had a winning overall record since 2012, will certainly face tough teams throughout their season, such as the Big East favorite Creighton (2-4). For Georgetown, a team focused on building a foundation to carry the team this season and for years to come, success will be defined beyond the numbers recorded in the wins and losses columns.

“Right now, what would make for a successful season for Georgetown volleyball is for us to have a great culture, for us to really facilitate and foster that family environment, to have every single one of these players walking out feeling valued in this program and knowing that they’re part of the family and that they are loved,” Coach Williams said.

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