Friars Volleyball End of Season Recap
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.
Who Will Win the College Football Playoff?
Providence College Investigates
Joseph Quirk ’23
Do not be fooled by the outcome of the SEC Conference Championship this past weekend— Georgia is still by far the best team in the country, and it is not even a close race.
The University of Georgia Bulldogs were 12-0 heading into their conference championship, in which they squared off against the perennial powerhouse University of Alabama Crimson Tide. Bama has had a “rough” season, if you could even call it that. The Tide went 11-1 before clinching a spot into the SEC title game. They escaped close losses to the University of Florida, Louisiana State University, the University of Arkansas, and the University of Auburn, all of whom had lackluster seasons this year, leading many to write the Crimson Tide off. On top of that, Bama has had top recruiting classes and the best coach in college football over the last decade. So why say all this? Because up until this weekend, Georgia was seen as the undisputed best team in the country.
The Bulldogs have arguably one of the best defenses in college history with great starters (most of whom will be drafted to the NFL) and have not allowed more than 17 points in a game this season. That was until they played Bama and their Heisman trophy candidate quarterback Bryce Young. The game was a simple slip-up that the nation is making out to be worse than it is.
The facts are that Georgia’s defense is as good as advertised, their offense is certainly nothing to scoff at either, and being undefeated in the toughest division of college football is quite the accomplishment.
Yes, they slipped up and lost a game. But that game was to one of the juggernauts of college football, who consider 11-1 a “subpar” season. Looking at the bracket, Georgia will likely have a chance at redemption if they can make it to the championship.
First, they face the University of Michigan. The Wolverines broke through with Jim Harbaugh at the helm. Michigan finally beat Ohio State, catapulting them into the playoffs with their only loss being a close one to another top-ranked team in Michigan State University. While Michigan is a tough opponent, they aren’t unbeatable.
Michigan’s pass offense has seemed to lack some explosion. Their quarterback is untested, especially against a defense like Georgia. And while Michigan’s defense is solid, Georgia’s offensive line can limit Michigan’s pass rush. With Bama playing the University of Cincinnati in the first round, the first Group of Five conference team to make the playoffs in the committee era, I believe the stage is set for a rematch. And with experience, tape, and a hunger for revenge, there is no reason this historically good Georgia team cannot win it all.
Will Murphy ’23
The College Football Playoff has been surrounded by controversy since its inception, but as it stands it allows four of the nation’s best teams to duke it out for the title of National Champion.
The University of Michigan is primed to make their first appearance in the event with a substantial chance to win. After the Wolverines took care of business against the University of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship, they were awarded a top-two seed in the bracket.
Michigan has taken strides this year, most recently toppling their fiercest rival, the Ohio State University, something they had not done since 2011. Although that win was impressive, it was only the tip of the iceberg for Michigan’s successes this year. They have beaten four teams nationally ranked in the Top 25, two of which were ranked in the Top 10.
Their rigorous schedule and playing in a competitive Big Ten conference have adequately prepared them for difficult games on the brightest stages. Michigan’s successes start with its defensive prowess. They have been able to limit nine of their twelve opponents to fewer than 20 points. Michigan is adept at forcing their opponents into turnovers, something that consistently plays a critical role in playoff games.
Additionally, Michigan has been able to avoid committing an excess of turnovers on offense, allowing them to control the ball and win the field position battle. Michigan’s turnover margin is one of the best in the country, and turnover margin is often a strong indicator of whether a team will find playoff success.
Another aspect of Michigan’s defense that limits opposing offenses is their pass rush. Senior defensive end Aidan Hutchinson has been all over opposing quarterbacks this year, tallying 14 total sacks, good for third in the nation.
Michigan’s prowess does not end with their defense either; they have a potent offense that can put up points in a hurry. For example, senior running back Hassan Haskins has been running all over strong defenses in the Big Ten this year. The ability to effectively run the ball allows Michigan to control the tempo of the game and avoid letting the game get away from them.
If Michigan can continue to do what they do best in the College Football Playoff, they will have a chance to be the first Big Ten team to win it since Ohio State won the event in its first year in 2015.
– Will Murphy ’23