The Allegheny Women’s Volleyball team celebrated its Senior Night on Friday, Nov. 1, with a match against Penn State Behrend — and the Wise Sport and Fitness Center was abuzz with nearly 200 fans supporting the Gators.
Allegheny fell to Penn State Behrend 3-1, and the Gators finished the season with a 5-21 record. Head Coach Kelly Barzak completed her third season with the Gators and praised the team’s hard work and dedication throughout the 2019 season.
“I really enjoyed coaching the team this year,” Barzak said. “They always gave me 150% in practice, and they were always willing to learn. It’s been a fun season. We fought really hard against a lot of different teams, and I was proud of how they did.”
Gator fans turned out in droves to see the match, and Barzak said the crowd helped to inspire the team throughout the match, especially as they won the second set to tie the match 1-1.
During timeouts and set changes, the crowd sang along to Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” and belted out the remaining verses to OutKast’s “Hey Ya!” long after the speakers were silenced and play had resumed. The fans’ excitement for Toto’s “Africa” was answered by multiple incremental increases in volume throughout the song.
Barzak and the players were appreciative of the excitement displayed by Gator fans throughout the game. Elizabeth Debich, ’21, noticed the enthusiasm and energy that the crowd brought to the game.
“It was definitely one of the better atmospheres we’ve had,” Debich said. “The crowd gave us a lot of energy, which I think led us to win the second set.”
The Gators got out to an 8-4 start against the Lions and forced the visiting team to spend one of its two first set timeouts. The Lions responded well to the break and went on to win the first set 25-18. The Gators once again took an 8-4 lead in the second set, and after another Lions timeout the Gators held their lead and won the set 25-19.
Points were typically met with a roar from the home crowd, especially on blocks and spikes. Team Captain Raelynn Dorscheid, ’20, credited the crowd for helping the team play one of its best games of the year.
“It honestly was the best environment I’ve ever experienced,” Dorscheid said. “I would say that was one of, if not the biggest crowds we’ve ever played for as a volleyball team, at least in my four years. Even having some of (Penn State Behrend’s) fanbase there created a rival atmosphere and was really cool to play for. It’s easily one of the biggest reasons that we played one of the best games we’ve played all season.”
For Dorscheid and student Assistant Coach Michela Contestabile, ’20, Senior Night marked their final game with the team. Barzak praised Dorscheid for her perseverance and leadership as the team’s captain.
“(Dorscheid) has been an amazing person to work with,” Barzak said. “In her four years she has given everything she has to the program. She is always working hard, always studying the game and always wanting to be the best student-athlete she can. She’s just somebody that loves to help people. On our team, they even call her “mom” sometimes because she’s always there for the girls.”
The Gators hung with the Lions throughout the match and had more aces, blocks and overall points, but the Lions took the remaining two sets 25-21 and 25-17 to win the match. Penn State Behrend moved to 17-10 on the season and will play in an Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference semifinal match on Saturday, Nov. 9.
Despite the loss, Dorscheid said that she enjoyed the game and the season with her teammates.
“This season meant the absolute world to me because volleyball has been such a big part of my life over the past 12 years,” Dorscheid said. “(After) all the adversity we faced as a team here at Allegheny over the past three years, I really thought this would be the grand finale and it would be a season to remember in more ways than one, which it ended up being. Coming in as one of the last players to play for Coach Sheehan, I felt that I owed it to her legacy to try and influence my teammates and make it one of our better seasons.”
According to an Oct. 31, 2017, article released by Allegheny College, former head coach Bridget Sheehan passed away on Oct. 30, 2017, following her retirement after the 2016 season. Sheehan coached the Gators from 1986 to 2016 and compiled a career record of 635-484. She is the only North Coast Athletic Conference volleyball coach to win 600 matches and one of only 25 NCAA Division III coaches to eclipse that mark.
As Barzak enters her fourth offseason as the Gators’ head coach, she hopes to carry on the legacy that Sheehan instilled in the program.
“Coach Sheehan was amazing,” Barzak said. “She was here for 30 years, and she devoted her life to the volleyball program. She’s always in the back of my mind when I do things because I really want to make her proud. Our goal is to win a championship and that was one of her goals all along as well.”
According to Barzak, some of the players were already in the weight room preparing for next season. Barzak said their chances to win a championship will be determined by the work they put in this offseason.
For Dorscheid, the offseason will bring a welcome rest for her mind and body, but she said she is unsure how she will feel when the team begins official practices for the 2020 season.
“It’s very bittersweet and surreal,” Dorscheid said. “I don’t think I’ve totally accepted the fact that it’s over. I don’t think it has really hit me yet. I don’t think not playing is going to hit me for awhile until the rest of the team starts lifting and preparing for their next season.”
Teammates ran to hug Dorscheid as she left the court one last time, and she addressed a section of students that cheered as she passed by. While the emotions of the moment have yet to hit her, she summed up the Gators Senior Night with three words.
“Best game ever,” Dorscheid said.