COLUMBIA— Cate Eckhardt feels like a freshman.
The lanky, blonde outside hitter on the Columbia College women’s volleyball team has three years of college experience behind her, but when she stepped onto campus this August, she faced a new team and high expectations. After spending her freshman year at Martin Methodist College in Pulaski, Tenn. and the next two years at the University of Albany in New York, Eckhardt, who is a native of Ottawa, Ontario, transferred to Columbia College.
The Columbia College women's volleyball team won three matches and lost one at this weekend's Lindenwood University Classic in St. Charles.
On Friday, the No.4 Cougars beat Graceland University 25-9, 25-11, 25-16 and No. 22 Lindenwood University 23-25, 25-21, 25-18, and 25-18 win over No. 22 Lindenwood.
On Saturday, the Cougars beat Trevecca Nazarene University 25-23, 25-5, 25-21, but fell to Oklahoma City University 25-18, 20-15, 23-25, 25-13 and 14-16. The loss was Columbia College's first to an NAIA opponent this season.
The Cougars will play next at 7 p.m. Monday when they host Missouri Valley College.
She hopes that her senior year will be an opportunity to learn from a new coach and win a national championship, and she is working to make Columbia College her home.
Eckhardt said that she transferred from the Albany because her coach left after her first season there.
“I mean, I thought it out, and the team did well, but I didn’t feel like I was learning enough,” Eckhardt said. “I decided that it’s my last year, I’m from Canada, and I go to school in America to play volleyball. I figured that if I wasn’t enjoying it, I should transfer somewhere that I would.”
Although there are many differences between Albany and Columbia, Eckhardt said she enjoys her new home and the opportunity to be a leader opportunities at a small school.
“At Albany… there were just so many people that it was like you were just another number,” Eckhardt said.
At Columbia College, however, there are fewer sports teams and many players transfer to the school mid-career. In such a climate, Eckhardt has been accepted as a team leader because of her intensity and athleticism.
“She transitioned very naturally,” Wrye-Washington said. “She arrived, worked hard, established herself through her work ethic, and fit in very well.”
Eckhardt said she is an intense player and that catapulted her into a leadership position.
“Although I’m a senior, I felt like a freshman when I came in,” she said. “This is a new school, and when I was voted captain I was a bit surprised. At the same time, I was very excited … I have certain expectations of how I want to do, and in order to get there it’s like a team goal. I’m happy that I get to lead the way.”
Eckhardt has done her best to get to know each woman on the squad.
“I try and sense what each player wants,” Eckhardt said. “When I’m on the court, there’s some girls that like it when you get in their face and you tell them exactly what’s wrong. But there’s other girls on the team that need a little more support.”
Getting involved and building friendships is key in Eckhardt’s approach to the team. She also knows that team unity is crucial if the Cougars want to achieve their goal of winning a national championship.
“In order for a team to come together, you have to work with everybody’s own personality and find out whatever makes them play the best,” Eckhardt said. “That’s what I try and do. I try to be supportive and give each player what they… need to play their best.”
It’s not that Eckhardt doesn’t have a solid volleyball record to back up her appointment as captain. In high school she was recognized as the 2005-2006 Ottawa Volleyball Player of the Year, and at Martin Methodist she was named the TranSouth Conference Freshman of the Year. As a sophomore she averaged 1.6 kills and 2.7 digs per game at Albany, and in her junior year, she maintained her 1.6 kills per game average in 76 appearances.
Despite her past success, Eckhardt said she still has a lot to learn and thinks that there is still room for her game to improve, one of the biggest reasons she chose to play at Columbia College under Wrye-Washington.
“Coach Washington is a lot different than what I’ve had before,” Eckhardt said. “A lot of other coaches are just concerned about winning. With Coach, it’s not just about winning … she makes us feel like we have to play the best we can every play. It doesn’t really matter just if you win, she wants to win by this many points. I think she just taught me that I have to play well the whole time. I can’t just take a couple of plays off.”
Wrye-Washington said that while Eckhardt is one of the most talented players on her team, there are still areas where she can improve.
“Her strengths are her athleticism, intensity and her refusal to lose,” Wrye-Washington said. “Her weaknesses are that she is very critical of herself and sometimes over-thinks when she makes an error.”
Eckhardt said she appreciates Wrye-Washington’s constant support and criticism and thinks she has become a better player since she started the season. Because her experience has been so positive, she said she hopes some of her friends in Canada can someday take advantages of Columbia College’s volleyball program.
“I wish people back home, or other Canadian players, could understand or know how great it is,” she said. “I’m definitely up for helping Coach to recruit more. She gets a lot of her players by word of mouth, so I would love to help.”
Eckhardt said she regrets not knowing about Columbia College’s program earlier, but she is grateful for the one season that she will have.
“Now that I’m here, I definitely wish that I had like six years of eligibility, where I could just keep playing,” she said. “I would love to keep on learning from Coach.”