Senior spotlights: Women’s volleyball seniors elevated the program and built a positive culture

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By Leo Kagan, Staff Writer

At the end of every women’s volleyball season, the dismantling of the net in the Bobbi Brown and Steven Plofker Gym marks the end of Emerson’s seniors’ careers.

After a five-set NEWMAC playoffs loss to Smith College, the Emerson women’s volleyball season came to a close on Nov. 1. 

A playoff loss is always painful—especially for those who are playing out their final seasons. While the rest of the team can find solace in the guarantee of another shot at the championship, seniors must accept their journeys have reached an end. This year’s seniors also lost a year out of their collegiate careers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

When the dust has settled and the loss made official, this time of year suddenly becomes very sentimental. In light of the recent loss—and the conclusion for a senior class that helped propel the Lions to the NEWMAC championship match in their freshman year—The Beacon sat down with several of the team’s non-seniors and Head Coach Ben Read to find out what memories will linger of this year’s seniors and why they will be missed next fall. 

Caroline Bond – Setter

Bond, 2019’s NEWMAC Rookie of the Year, despite losing several more games to injuries than her fellow seniors, has recorded a whopping 1791 assists in her 59 games as a Lion. She is a gifted setter, but also excels in other areas—her freshman year she recorded a triple-double (digs, kills, and assists) against Tufts University. Read says her versatility comes from her play style. 

“The way she plays is relaxed,” Read said. “She’s very level-headed on the court, very cerebral, and she listens to feedback. She’s good about trying to execute the game plan.”

But, her setting is quite good. Read says it’s so good she can single-handedly increase the number of passing options in serve-receive.  

“We joke that she turns 1’s into 2’s and 2’s into 3’s,” Read said.

Jillian Kay – Middle Blocker

Kay is at her best when she’s patrolling the front of the net. In 74 career games, she has tallied 169 total blocks and 316 kills. From her spot in the middle, she consistently halts opposing attackers in their tracks and delivers an effective straight-down attack that often hits its target. She’s known around the team as a ray of sunshine, always looking on the bright side. Read said Kay was recently named the team’s third captain due to her strong leadership skills and unselfish attitude. 

“Jill’s super positive and very open to communicating,” Read said. “She’s selfless. She would put her team first, always.”

Shea McGovern – Setter

McGovern was a late addition to the roster last year, a transfer from California State University, Los Angeles. She transferred for academic reasons, but reignited her love of volleyball when she joined the Lions towards the tail end of the season. She’s appeared in only 21 matches, but posted 3.32 assists per set. 

Her passion for volleyball stands out on the court, but off it, teammates appreciate her calm, positive personality. Davis says she also has a curious habit. 

“Something you didn’t know about [Shea] is she loves eating ice,” Davis said. “You’ll catch her eating ice before or after games, in the athletic trainer’s room getting a cup … You just look at her and you smile.”

Andrea Mendez – Defensive Specialist

Mendez is a versatile defender who has become a useful piece of the team’s back row. Her primary skill set is defensive—she’s recorded 230 career digs—but she’s also become a dependable server and serve-receiver. Hailing from Puerto Rico, Mendez has also brought a perspective that sophomore middle blocker Brooke Maynez said helped her adjust to the team. 

“I relate to her a lot because she’s the only other Hispanic on the team,” Maynez said. “That’s where we grew our relationship. She’s just a great example. I had written a letter to her for Senior Night, [and] in that letter I just explained to her how great of a role model she is.”

Rebecca Polsky – Setter/Right Side Attacker

Polsky is a versatile player who can do a little bit of everything. She’s logged 127 kills, 356 assists, 26 aces, 33 blocks, and 158 digs in her collegiate career. Initially recruited as a setter, she’s spent considerable time as a right-side hitter as well as a middle blocker. Teammates like first-year Allie Montenegro appreciate Polsky’s sense of humor, positive attitude, and work ethic. 

“[She] makes me laugh all the time,” Montenegro said. “She makes comments related to the game and reminds you of the fun aspects of volleyball. She reminds everyone to stay calm, and always gives 100% on the court.”

Anna Phillips – Defensive Specialist

If teammates know Phillips for anything, it’s her booming voice. 

“If you are in the gym, and you hear someone scream,” Davis said, “it’s Anna.”

Communicative and competitive, Phillips excelled defensively in the backcourt, recording 470 career digs in her 62 games. One of the team’s three captains, she is a valuable leader, providing advice and motivation on and off the court and. Montenegro respects her mind for the game and her kindness above all else. 

“Her volleyball IQ is off the charts,” Montenegro said. “She knows the game so well, she could be the coach herself. She’s also very driven and kind. She was one of the first to welcome me when I got here. She’s one of the best captains I’ve ever had.”

Logan Steenbergen – Middle Blocker

Steenbergen is another one of the team’s three captains, and also a middle blocker. They are gifted at running slides, positioning themselves well to take advantage of out-of-place defenders—a skill reflected in their 360 career kills. Steenbergen is also a quality leader, balancing multiple aspects of their captaincy at once, says Maynez. 

“Logan brings motivation and constructive criticism to the team,” she said. “But also, they bring humor.”

Junior libero Caroline Davis says one of Steenbergen’s classic jokes never fails to bring down stress levels. 

“They always crack this cat joke,” Davis said. “Which gets me every time. They just like to meow at random points. If I’m in a situation where I’m getting frustrated with myself, they’re always there to pick me up and get my head straight.”

Olivia Tran – Defensive Specialist

Tran, one of three senior DS’s, is positionally strong and capable of playing scrappy volleyball. She’s tallied 95 digs over her career, most from diving efforts to keep plays alive. Tran, also known as “Olive” or “O”, is the team’s DJ and a known jokester. According to teammates, she once jokingly ran for U.S. President—against herself—in the middle of a game, collecting votes from teammates on the sidelines. Montenegro said her good spirit lends itself to team success. 

“She’s carefree and yet she executes her motions very well,” Montenegro said. “[She] keeps everyone up—reminds me of Jill because she never has a negative attitude. In a tight situation, it’s nice to know someone is there that will make you laugh.”

Class of 2023 Seniors

As a group, these seniors will be remembered for their success on the court and their hard work at building a positive, comfortable team culture. Read identified those two components as their legacy. 

“I think what they’ve been able to accomplish on the court is huge,” he said. “To see how competitive they’ve been and do it the right way, with what we want our team culture to be. You can have all that and still be very competitive, and it will be continued to be handed down to future generations of Lions.”

Teammates might remember these seniors with more sentimentality, like Maynez, who says her experience playing with this group has been monumental in her life. 

  “[Recently], I started tearing up because I have never played on a team that’s always stayed so positive,” Maynez said about the team’s Senior Night. “Everyone’s always been so genuine and loving. It has really felt like this is my second family, my home away from home.” Maynez continued, explaining the senior group will be remembered long after they’re gone by teammates and coaches. 

“These eight seniors, they’re going to be missed,” she said. “They’re not going to be forgotten because of the impact they’ve made. I’ve really enjoyed my time here at Emerson, and I’m so grateful to have met and played with them.”