A comfortable, relaxed atmosphere filled Silverthorne Arena Wednesday evening at the Stephens College volleyball practice.
Laughter could be heard as the team prepared for its first home match of the season at 7 p.m. against Missouri Valley in Silverthorne.
“I just want to have fun and bond as a team,” senior captain Freda West said. “We really came together last year. As long as we play happy, I’m happy.”
West said a winning season would be nice, but isn’t more important than having fun.
With its recent acceptance as a provisional member in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics, though, Stephens, 2-11 last season, hopes winning might soon be a reality.
Volleyball is the first Stephens sport to debut under the new affiliation. Since making the move in April from NCAA Division III to the NAIA, Stephens is able to award athletes scholarships, something it could not do previously.
Coach Dane Pavlovich said seven players are on scholarship. Freshmen Wendy Parsell and Moniece Brown might not have joined the team without athletic scholarships.
“Both of them love the school,” Pavlovich said. “To be able to come to the school that has the major you want and play volleyball was important for them.”
Pavlovich said Parsell and Brown have much more experience than last season’s new players.
“They came in playing at a high level,” Pavlovich said. “We haven’t had players like that very often.”
Parsell, from Raymond, Kan., played at Chase High School. Brown, from Independence, played at William Christman High School in Kansas City.
Four players, including West, return for the Stars.
Junior Megan Gigax is 5 feet 5, but Pavlovich said she is the team’s best passer.
“She’s undersized, but she’s good at placing the ball,” he said.
Gigax is also a solid server. Pavlovich said she missed only one serve all of last season.
Sophomore setters Sara Warren and Alisha Gay fill out Stephens’ starting six.
“They were thrust into action last year as freshmen and responded well,” Pavlovich said. “They’re responding even better now. It’s nice to have young setters you can rely on.”
West leads the young team.
“She’s a tremendous all-around player,” Pavlovich said. “She can pass, serve, hit. She can do it all.”
West led the Stars with 18 kills in their season-opening victory against Messenger on Tuesday.
West said that it’s kind of scary being the only senior.
“You want to make sure there are people behind you to step up and take your place when you’re gone,” she said. “But I’m glad to be a captain and a senior.”
West said she is confident her teammates will fill the void when she is gone.
Pavlovich is looking forward to the future as well.
“Next year or whenever we’re able to join a conference, we’ll be able to step in and be competitive,” he said.
He said it will be easier to see where the team is headed after tonight’s match.
“We’ll be going against a big program,” Pavlovich said. “We’ll be able to measure where we need to go after that match.”