Luke Sweeney ’24
For the Providence College Women’s Volleyball Team, adversity struck when they were sent home for the 2020 spring semester last year. This meant that they would not have the chance to practice together or to engage in any in-person, team-building activities in the lead up to their next season. However, head coach and former player Margot Royer-Johnson was able to adapt to the situation by creating an online fitness and team-building program that allowed her team to remain in contact with each other while improving their skills in preparation for the 2021 season.
When asked about her team and how they responded to the challenges of COVID-19 protocols, coach Royer-Johnson could not say enough about how pleased she was with the way the athletes adapted and committed themselves to being successful: “Every member of our team completely bought into our offseason program and were more than excited to compete once allowed back on campus.”
Their hard work in the offseason clearly paid dividends as the shortened, 2021 spring season came to a close. It was a special season for the Friars, as it was the first time they had been invited to the Big East tournament since 1999. In a dramatic, five-set victory over the Villanova University Wildcats in late March, the Friars punched their ticket to become the No. 2 seed in the tournament.
Unfortunately, due to COVID-19 complications, such as players testing positive and being close contacts of positive cases, Royer-Johnson and her team were forced to pull out of the tournament just a week before they were set to begin. This was a devastating moment for all members of the team, especially the seniors who will not be returning to compete next year.
Although the season did not end quite the way they had hoped, two players, as well as the entire coaching staff, were awarded Big East All-Conference Honors to highlight their exceptional performances this season.
Allison Barber ’21 and Emma Nelson ’23 were both named to the All-Big East First Team.
Barber was highlighted as a dominant player in the Big East because of her ability in the backcourt, ranking fourth in assists in the Big East, while also racking up 115 defensive digs. Nelson has proved to be dangerous near the net in her first two seasons with the Friars, tallying a total of 128 kills in her sophomore year as well as carrying a .226 hitting percentage.
Although both players were tremendous this year, coach Royer-Johnson emphasized that their success as a team was not dependent on any individual’s performance, rather, their success was the product of a complete team effort. “Every player on this year’s team contributed to our success,” said Royer-Johnson. “There was very little focus on individual accomplishment.”
The coaching staff, headed by Royer-Johnson, was recognized for their 7-3 season by being named the Big East Coaching Staff of the Year. The team, picked to finish fifth in the preseason poll, far exceeded expectations by finishing second in the east division.
When asked what she thought contributed to this accolade, Royer-Johnson remained humble by insisting it was a full-team effort. She also explained that it was not only the coaching staff that was crucial to the team’s accomplishments, but also the Providence College athletic training staff, calling them “one of the best in the entire country.” The trainers played a huge role in keeping the members of the team healthy and in peak physical shape throughout a difficult offseason and into the end of the year.
Although their run came to an end in a heartbreaking fashion, PC volleyball produced fantastic results in a trying time, and now look well positioned to build on their success next season.