After making a few deep tournament runs in previous years, the expectation may have been that the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point volleyball team would duplicate its success this season.
But these outside expectations did not meet exactly what the players expected of themselves.
UWSP graduated multiple seniors including an All-American, and only two seniors returned to lead the team. One of those seniors, Emma Brinkhorst, had to miss a big chunk of the season due to injury. Despite all the inexperience and injuries, head coach Abbey Sutherland lead the Pointers to a 27-9 record.
“Looking back on the season, I’m very proud of what we have accomplished. With some of the injuries and adversity we went through, we had some other players get a chance to step up and get experience, and I thought we ended pretty strong,” Sutherland said.
The two seniors she was able to coach this season, Brunkhorst and Hannah Picel, were a big part in one of the most successful four year runs UWSP volleyball has ever seen.
“I care so much for them off the court first off, and with not only their talents on the court but character off it, has been a major reason for our big success over these past few years,” Sutherland said.
UWSP was knocked out in the second round of the NCAA Division III Tournament by fourth-ranked Calvin College. The match was in reach for the Pointers, but a point here and there did not go their way, and they were sent packing.
“We had to compete at an extremely high level for every point of that match, and in the first couple sets we had match point and were able to go toe to toe with them but just weren’t able to sustain that high level for the duration,” Sutherland said.
Having to battle through injuries gave some younger players, who will be staples in the UWSP program for years to come, an opportunity to show what they can do. This was a pleasant surprise for coach Sutherland to see how they played.
“We will have four seniors and one medical redshirt senior coming back. I am looking for them to jump into that leadership role right away, which they have done a good job of setting up open gyms and what not already,” Sutherland said. “The thing I am excited for is with how this season ended these girls will be extra motivated next year and hungry to get back, and I think how these girls played at the end of the year will be a good indicator of what is to come.”
Going into next year with this group of girls will ramp up expectations to make a trip back to the national championship again, which is something that the Pointers always welcome with open arms.
“Of course the expectation is always to get to that level, but I think if you build in those expectations sometimes you put too much negative pressure on yourself, which isn’t good. In order to succeed in the tournament you not only have to be playing well but get some luck on your side,” Sutherland said.
With the 2015 season in the books, UWSP exceeded its own expectations, resulting in the continued success of one of the most thriving programs at the university.
“We left here talking about how to get better with our character on and off the floor, and that is something that we think will translate to continued success as it has in the past for us,” Sutherland said.