COLUMBIA – Sure, their team is largely transfers who don't get the benefit of four full years under the same coach. Yeah, they have to get used to the system fast. But the Columbia Cougars have a girl who's not afraid to spread her arms and fly around the court, a coach who's not afraid to implement discipline, and a team that has confidence in its shot at nationals. Sounds like they're not missing much.
It all begins with recruitment.
"We prefer to have four year players," head coach Melinda Wrye-Washington said.
But she doesn't always get her first choice. Most local players of Columbia's caliber — both in terms of athletics and academics — are snapped up by Division 1 programs. So Wrye-Washington moves on to junior colleges.
When players arrive, the coach with the 591-81 record (after Wednesday's 3-0 win against visiting Culver-Stockton College) gets to work integrating players into her program.
"You tend to learn a lot faster when you're under pressure and there's a consequence," Wrye-Washington said. "You know, the consequence in a game: you're gonna lose the game. Or you're gonna lose points. Or you're gonna get subbed out."
In practice, discipline comes from timed drills or pushups for missed targets.
"The quicker they learn to play under pressure and do things the right way, the better off they're gonna be," Wrye-Washington said.
If girls aren't willing to work hard in academics and athletics, Wrye-Washington doesn't hesitate. "They're gone," she said.
The system appears to be working. Senior middle hitter Carol Berger spent two years at a junior college before she came to Columbia, and she had 11 kills with a .786 hitting efficiency against Culver-Stockton.
"I've been working hard to get used to the pace of volleyball here," Berger said.
Senior middle hitter Trinity Ojo spent a semester in Texas before transferring to Columbia, so she's in her fourth year with Wrye-Washington. Ojo sees responsibility for her own play as a way to help newer teammates.
"I'm trying to do the best that I can to make sure I'm doing my job so I don't make theirs any harder," Ojo said.
Lydie van Deursen spent a year at junior college before coming to Columbia and said the team is still melding together.
Teammate and senior libero Erin Pavlin said one example of van Deursen's melding with the team happened during Columbia's 3-2 victory over Georgetown College on Friday.
"She did 'The Birdman' whenever we won," Pavlin said.
When asked to replicate 'The Birdman', van Deursen's response — "'The Birdman?' Serious?" — is followed by her getting up from the table, narrating a great play by Ojo, and turning to run halfway around the table, arms spread wide.
"People kind of make fun of volleyball cheers, being like, 'Ayyy, it's all prissy,' but that that really can get your team motivated and can really, you know, swing the motivation to a team," Pavlin said.
It worked in the win over Georgetown College.
"I think that was kind of the moment for me when we beat (Georgetown)," Pavlin said. "Thanks to 'The Birdman,'" junior outside hitter Paula Rosa said. She's confident about the team's future, too.
"Nationals, we're gonna be there and we're gonna kill everybody," Rosa said. "Better be ready for Columbia."
Supervising editor is Greg Bowers.