Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
There are a couple of words that can accurately sum up the last two years for the MT volleyball program: chaotic, turbulent and at times, uncertain.
Over the course of the last two seasons, the Blue Raiders have had three different head coaches and only 13 wins. To say that it has been a disappointing last couple years for this program would certainly be an understatement, and some developments were needed to turn the tide within the program.
This past spring, they took the first steps to rebuilding the program by hiring former Auburn assistant Chuck Crawford and bringing in a new coaching staff. The goal for this new coaching staff was plain and simple: change the culture.
After 11 games, the team has already experienced their fair share of ups and downs. The Blue Raiders dropped their first 16 sets of the season and subsequently lost their first eight games, but the attitude remained positive.
The positive attitude ultimately paid dividends, as the Blue Raiders not only recorded their first win on the season, but their first preseason tournament sweep in seven seasons.
After the first win against Troy, Coach Crawford emphasized the importance of the culture change and how the have worked on developing this winning attitude since his arrival in the spring.
“It’s been a process that started back in the spring about changing the culture and changing the mentality,” Crawford said. “Not just buy in to the culture, but live it.”
Part of developing the culture in any collegiate program starts with leadership from some of the older and more experienced players; players who have played under different coaches and have experienced the lows of the program. One of the key variables of improvement in this program have come from the experience of senior Sloan Sullivan.
Sullivan, who was recently named to the Comfort Inn-vitational all-tournament team in Morehead, Kentucky last weekend, knows all too well the highs and lows of playing for this program and the transformation that is being made.
“The lowest point (of the program) was when I came in my freshman year,” Sullivan said. “I learned to really stay true to myself, because with all the changes, I was getting so much information from different people, so I learned to stay true to myself to fight through the hard times, because everything happens for a reason.”
Sullivan described the team dynamic as more of a family-oriented atmosphere, in which she believes her teammates have her back.
“Coach Crawford has made us a family, everyone is all in for everyone so it really is a sisterhood,” Sullivan said. “Everyone goes all out for the person next to them.”.
The impact of the lessons learned and the hardship Sullivan has experienced with the program has helped mold her into a leader that has made an impact on incoming players like transfer Taylor Hammill.
“The people who were here in the spring really set the standard and helped us newcomers adapt, so when it came time for these tournaments and finally playing, it was a lot easier to collaborate together,” Hammill said. “They definitely showed a lot of good leadership, as well as just how to lead and how to get that ‘next ball’ mentality.”
The most important part of the culture of the program, like Sullivan and Hammill both mentioned, was everyone gaining the trust of their teammates and the relationship evolution amongst teammates from being just players sharing a uniform, to forming a legitimate sisterhood.
When asked what the biggest difference improving the culture from her previous school to MTSU, Hammill simply credited that to the growing camaraderie.
“I simply didn’t feel the connection over there like I do with these girls,” Hammill said.
The Blue Raider volleyball team looks to build on this newly acquired value, as they head into the most crucial part of the season in the conference schedule. As the team has already achieved 60 percent of their win total from last year and are almost at .500 in the month of September, the momentum finally feels to be swinging in their favor.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Elijah Campbell on Twitter at @E_Campbell3
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