By Joseph Quirk ’23
The 2021 season started out with much promise for the Providence College Women’s Volleyball team. After earning a spot in the Big East tournament for the first time since 1999 (the Big East Tournament for volleyball only accepts the top four finishers in the conference), the Friars expected to continue their growth into 2021 and use the confidence and experience gained the previous season to return to the Big East Tournament.
In the beginning of the season, that seemed like it would be just the case. The Friars went 12-1 in non-conference play, dominating opponents apart from the United States Military Academy, also known as Army.
Head coach Margot Royer-Johnson was excited about the continued development of her team, especially with the many underclassmen contributors she expected to step up, along with returning veterans using extra years of eligibility to play.
Heading into Big East Play, coach Royer-Johnson exclaimed that she did not want to change anything, only perfect the skills they were already implementing. It seemed that the Friars were ready to roll through the Big East.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. The Friars went 4-14 in conference play, including a seven-match losing streak that ended them with a 16-15 record overall. Needless to say, the Friars, who felt disrespected by the preseason prediction that they would finish seventh in the Big East, were disappointed this season.
On the bright side, setter Allison Barber ’22GS finished her career in Friartown as the school’s all-time assist leader. A tremendous accomplishment—no doubt—for a deserving and long-tenured athlete.
Looking at the statistics, it is difficult to point at where things went wrong for the Friars. They averaged more kills-per-set than opponents, albeit with a lower kill percentage. They barely averaged more assists-per-set and had less ball-handling errors than opponents. They had more aces-per-set than opponents, too. However, opponents averaged more digs-per-set, more blocks-per-set, and fewer errors-per-set than the Friars.
As for the Friars season leaders individually, the statistics show many things to be excited about moving forward. Outside hitter Shaliyah Rhoden ’25 played in every set this season except one. That alone is very impressive for a freshman, but she also led the team in points, points-per-set, kills, kills-per-set, errors, and total kill attempts. Because of her large number of kill attempts, Rhoden did not lead the team in kill percentage.
The most efficient Friar in that category was sophomore setter Sammie Ruggles ’24. To the surprise of few, Allison Barber led the team in assists, her 101 assists being just slightly more than the next assist leader with 96. Caroline LaMacchia ’23 and Jennifer Leitman ’23 led the team in service aces and service aces per serve, respectively.
Defensively, specialist Mackenzie Taylor ’22 led the Friars in digs, digs-per-set, total receiving attempts, and receiving errors. Middle back Sasha Rudich ’23 led the team in block attempts, blocks, blocks-per-set and blocking errors. All of this to say that, despite a letdown season, the Friars are returning a significant proportion of their core next season and have a young and developing team of contributors. The promise for next year is still very bright, despite a disappointing 2021.