When Delaware State University volleyball teams faces the North Carolina A&T Aggies at 4 p.m. Friday, it will be the first time the Hornets have been to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference tournament in 10 years.
They qualified after a 3-1 victory over the Morgan State Bears Thursday and then a 3-0 shutout against the Bears on Friday.
“Last year we fell just short, but this year that has been more motivation for us,” said DSU senior and setter Jelena Dukic. “Every day in practice we’ve been working to not only make it to the tournament, but be contenders for the title—which I think we are.”
The Hornets go into the MEAC tournament 10-4 for the season and a three-match win streak. The last time the Hornets went to this tournament was in 2010, where they won two matches to advance to the finals but were defeated by South Carolina State.
The COVID-19 pandemic played a big role in the team’s last year.
“We came in last fall to start our preseason with COVID. We had a whole new set of protocols,” Dukic said. “We were getting tested three times a week and had to get screened every day and then practice and play with our masks on. It’s been difficult to adjust and play at a high level with the masks and everything.”
While this season has so far gone well for the Hornets, it hasn’t been without its hardships. The team had to quarantine for a full fourteen days this season on two separate occasions after being exposed to COVID-19.
“That in itself brings a lot of challenges,” Coach Bruce Atkinson said. “Right when you feel like you’re starting to get right where you want to be, then you end up going inactive for a couple of weeks. Then you build back up and it happens again.”
Atkinson said the team has been able to recuperate from these periods of quarantine really well both physically and mentally. While it wasn’t setting them back to zero, being quarantined made the team take a couple steps backwards each time, which the players were able to adjust to.
“Quarantine had a much bigger impact mentally than physically,” said Mayah Ngundam, a senior and outside hitter. “From the mental standpoint I just had to kind of talk myself through it and I definitely had loved ones to remind me that everything would be okay. From a physical standpoint our strength and conditioning coach sent us workouts to do every day. I forced myself to do that each and every single day.”
Being quarantined for the second time caused even further problems for the team. During the two weeks they had to quarantine the team was forced to reschedule eight matches.
Since then, they’ve had to make up those games while still adhering to their regular schedule, making it so they’ve played a lot more games in a short period of time leading up to the tournament.
Erika Lindqvist, who was out the last two games due to injury will be available to play this weekend. Lindqvist is the third on the team in blocks. Jasmal Cruz, who is considered to be the team’s defensive specialist, was also out on injury for the last two games and will not be returning this weekend.
Friday’s North Carolina semifinal will be livestreamed here. If DSU wins, the team will face either N.C. Central or Coppin State at 6 p.m. Saturday in a match that will be live on ESPNU.
While the team is tired, Atkinson sees this as a good thing headed into the tournament.
“We’ve played a lot more than we would normally in a short period of time,” Atkinson said. “That has been a little bit draining on us, but I think the desire to win and to be successful is there.
“I’ve always been a big believer that I would rather be a little bit tired going in than a little bit rested.”