A Promising Loss: Colgate Women’s Volleyball Challenges UNLV


Colgate Athletics

HUDDLING UP: The Colgate Women’s Volleyball team comes together amidst a close game to NCAA powerhouse UNLV, a top team in the country.

“This is our match,” middle-blocker first-year Hristina Georgieva thought to herself on Wednesday, Sept. 8, as she watched her teammates step onto Cotterell Court for the Women’s Volleyball team’s first official game of the season. The roaring crowd hushed as the Raiders positioned themselves on the court before the Rebels of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) — one of the best volleyball teams in the country.

Currently ranked 27 out of 340 women’s volleyball teams in the NCAA, UNLV is, according to head volleyball coach Ryan Baker, one of the best teams to ever play Colgate in volleyball. Pitting the Raiders against this highly competitive team was a strategic choice by Baker. 

“I want to compete against the best teams in the country,” Baker said. “To be the best, you have to play the best.” 

Proper training is vital for the team this year, with expectations high and the team’s structure changing. The Colgate volleyball team was voted “preseason favorite” by the Patriot League on Aug. 18. 

Additionally, the recent injury of graduate student and outside hitter Alli Lowe, who earned preseason player of the year, presents an additional obstacle for the team. Furthermore, around 80% of the 20-person team roster are underclassmen. Though this group has great potential and skill, it will require time for them to adjust to the new team and training.

The UNLV game came after mixed success for Colgate’s volleyball team during their preseason. This up-and-down preseason began with a win against University at Buffalo on Aug. 21.  

“Although it was a scrimmage, it was a nice way to start the season,” Georgieva said. 

The next weekend, the team competed against Kansas State and Nebraska.

“We lost, but it was a super good experience to see that we could compete with people at that level,” outside hitter and sophomore Libby Overmyer said. 

The next weekend’s tournament in Albany, against the University of Albany, Cornell and St. John’s, ended with one win and two losses, which was an upsetting event for the athletes.

“It was not what most of us expected.” Georgieva said. “Coming back from that tournament, we had a lot of team talks about how we could improve and move forward. However, I think it also motivated us and made us more excited to do better at the UNLV game a few days later.”

The players were not the only ones excited for the Colgate-UNLV game. 

“UNLV’s title helped attract a lot of fans,” Baker said. “I was surprised that a team like UNLV came all the way down to Hamilton to compete against Colgate.”

Cheers reverberated throughout Cotterell as the two teams faced off on the court. Roars came from throughout the packed stands, from the “Rowdy Raiders,” a group of elderly Hamilton residents, to first-years bedecked in Colgate gear attending their first volleyball game.

“I can vividly remember the crowd and the rush of emotions that came with being able to see my family and friends in the crowd supporting me,” setter and outside hitter junior Julia Kurowski shared.

The Raiders struggled in the first moments of the set’s first game, trailing UNLV by six points. However, the women soon rallied together, gaining the upper hand for a few moments before losing the game at 27-25. The second game took the same trajectory.

In the third set, Colgate gained the upper hand, fighting for a 26-24 win. 

“Our team being able to come together and win that game was incredible,” Overmyer said. “In the past, we’d struggled finishing games, but in the end, we really came together in the third set.” 

UNLV won by the largest margin in the fourth and final game at 25-19, bringing the Rebels to victory at 3-1. Despite the loss, the serving and blocking at the hands of the Raiders was impressive. Harper Snyder led the Raiders in kills with 16, Caroline Altergott led in digs with 16, and Sophie Thompson excelled in both, with three blocks and five kills.

“The UNLV coach told me at the end of the match that this was some of the hardest volleyball that they had to play all season,” Baker said. “They played Washington State and Purdue, yet still this was some of the best volleyball they had to play.”

However, any loss is hard to celebrate. 

“Everyone gave everything to every ball,” Georgieva said. “However, it was a loss. No matter how well we played, a loss is a loss. We realized that we could beat them, we just had to let ourselves.” 

Kurowski, too, feels that the Raiders have more to give.

“We have that emotion; we have that drive to win. A lot of our improvements are going to come from skill-based learning and working together,” Kurowski said.

Baker, too, stressed how essential careful training will continue to be in the team achieving success, also highlighting how quickly the players are improving. 

Georgieva, in the final moments of her interview, shared how her teammates supported her through the difficult transition of leaving her home in Sofia, Bulgaria for Hamilton, New York, leaving herself thousands of miles from loved ones. 

“We have become like a family,” Georgieva said.

Kurowski and Overmyer each expressed a similar sentiment about the close-knit sisterhood that is women’s volleyball. 

Perhaps it will be channeling this incredible togetherness on the court that will be key to the team’s victory.