On Friday, five seniors on the Oswego State volleyball team will play the final match of their careers in front of a home crowd in the Max Ziel Gymnasium.
Mary Montagnola, Rachael Ruggaber, Lindsey Morehouse, Kim Cassa and Kelsey Dillon will be honored that evening in what should be an emotional senior night match, as they face the visiting Alfred Saxons.
Head Coach JJ O’Connell touched on the importance of the Senior Night and what it means to the players.
“It’s a night to celebrate all they’ve accomplished in their time here,” O’Connell said. “It’s important to recognize all that they have done over the years…They deserve it.”
In his fourth year as head volleyball coach at Oswego State in 2015, O’Connell has lead the team to its second 20-plus win season in his tenure as coach, after the team had not recorded 20 wins in a season since 1994.
A proven leader indeed, O’Connell attributed much of his success to his seniors.
“We don’t really follow typical command-down strategy where the coach is the leader,” O’Connell said. “I expect my seniors to be able to handle a lot of the leadership roles and a lot of the emotional roller coaster that a volleyball match can present and they have certainly done that.”
He added that being a senior also comes with a certain responsibility of leadership during matches, a role that requires only the experience that seniors possess.
“These are the girls that have been through it before,” O’Connell said. “They’re the players out there on the court that I look for when we need the upper hand. We’ve got a lot of leadership on this team.”
As they have developed over the years, O’Connell has also developed strong relationships with his seniors. Dillon, however, knows him better than anyone else on the team.
Dillon, the senior captain for the Lakers, is the only senior that has been on the team for all four years.
“It’s definitely bitter sweet,” Dillon said. “It’s going to be hard to leave for sure, especially when it’s been a part of you for so long.”
Morehouse, who transferred to Oswego State to start to her junior year, added that being part of the team for just two seasons will make leaving difficult.
“It’s really surreal,” Morehouse said. “It definitely went by fast, especially because I was only here for two years.”
Cassa also expressed her feelings of having to leave the sport she loves behind.
“It’s hard to believe it’s your last year as a college athlete,” she said. “You definitely cherish it more because it’s your last year, but I don’t think it’s really going to hit me until senior night. I’m going to miss it more than anything.”
With the road coming to an end, one might think that seniors only have experiences to look back on. However, while it is certainly hard to see the end of that road, Dillon added that there is still a lot to look forward to.
“It’s definitely sad, but it’s also good because now we are heading towards the SUNYAC’s and we’re all really excited about it,” Dillon said.
In what is widely considered to be one of their best seasons on record, there is no reason not to believe that the Lakers can win the SUNYAC title this year, Montagnola said.
“I really feel like this is a special year,” Montagnola said. “Coach has done a great job rebuilding the program to this point and I think as seniors we are in a great position to win it all this year. That is our team goal, and I believe we are in the position to do that.”
Morehouse added to her teammate’s motivated mindset.
“Our team goal is to make it past the first round of the SUNYAC’S,” Morehouse said. “But I agree with Mary [Montagnola]. I think we can go farther than that and win it all this year.”
With the SUNYAC Championships approaching, it is now or never for these motivated seniors who have yet to win the title at Oswego State.
According to Dillon, the fact that it is their last opportunity to bring home a title adds a little extra of that motivation to get the job done this year.
“The freshmen just want to play, the sophomores just want to start, the juniors just want to score,” Dillon said. “The seniors just want to win.”
More determined to win than ever before, these seniors will look to band together for one last run at the conference title.
But before that comes senior night on Friday evening, where they will suit up for the final match on their home court together as teammates.