Senior outside hitter Michelle Abt.
The Hopkins women’s volleyball team dominated in York, Pa. this past weekend, claiming four victories in as many games. Ranked No. 16 in the nation, the Blue Jays defeated Elizabethtown College, Gallaudet University, New York University and hometown York College, bringing them to a 5-0 record on the season. Hopkins swept in each match except against York, which required five sets for the Jays to take care of business.
The biggest reason for the team’s success was the effort put forth by senior outside hitter Michelle Abt. The Vienna, Va. product had her breakout performance this weekend, taking care of things on both offense and defense. Abt had 27 kills to give her a .349 hitting percentage, along with 34 digs. To top it off, her serve was unstoppable, as she led the team with 10 aces.
Abt spoke with The News-Letter to discuss her success this weekend, as well as the team’s hot start to the 2018 campaign.
The News-Letter: What does it mean for the team to start the season off strong, especially as you head into Conference play this week?
Michelle Abt: It is always great to go out and play like we have been training! After playing ourselves in training for three to four weeks, it was great that we had the opportunity to play so many opponents and see different competition. We are very excited to continue growing and improving.
N-L: Throughout your career, you’ve been sidelined by several injuries. How has your game developed since freshman year and how has coming back from those injuries prepared you for this season?
MA: Despite being on the “sidelines” during much of my career due to injuries, the coaching staff and program were still holistically committed to my development as a player and leader throughout the first three years of my career. During training I would engage in a few different aspects that both directly and indirectly developed my game. During many training drills and 6v6 play, I would train my eyes (much of the game of volleyball is seeing the flight path of the ball, predicting setters’ distribution choices and reading the ball-hitter relationship on defense) and visualize being on the court. I gave my teammates feedback, which forced me to look for certain cues and techniques in different skills and articulate them. Essentially I was able to learn and provide feedback on the techniques, skills and strategies taught by our coaching staff for multiples seasons and offseasons. Therefore, when I did return to playing on the court, I had a very developed mental understanding of the skills I needed to develop; it is now a matter of getting the physical reps.
My injuries have also more deeply changed my game, as my gratitude for volleyball has exponentially grown. Returning to play after being forced away from the game increased my sense of urgency to improve and appreciation for every ball that I get to be a part of playing. Being injured also provided me the opportunity to grow my mental toughness and resilience.
N-L: As a senior, what leadership role have you taken on and how have the team dynamics changed since last year?
MA: Within our program, all players on the team are encouraged to be leaders and positively influence the environment. My leadership has grown and developed over my career at Hopkins, as I have gained more experience and grown myself. After three years in the program, our senior class is equipped to hold our standards and expectations of our team and push them to be higher. Additionally, it is important for me to continue to lead by example and embody what it should look like to be a member of our program. It is also important for me to look past this year, to the future of the program, and be sure that my younger teammates are ready to lead the team and understand what we are all about. The ultimate goal is to leave the program better than it was when I came into it and better than it has ever been before.
N-L: The team, ranked No. 16 in the AVCA Coaches Poll, is projected to finish first in the Conference and will likely be one of the most important games on opponents’ schedules. What’s your mindset heading into games knowing the team has a target on its back?
MA: We work to prepare the same way for every time we step on the court, whether we are about to head into training or go play in a match. During matches, our ultimate goal is to play at our level and engage with our opponent at the highest level, regardless of our opponent’s level of play. I think it is a great thing that teams will bring their best when playing us, as we always want to be playing the highest competition possible. Having tough opponents will speed up our growth and prepare us for our postseason play. It doesn’t matter how good we are now but how good we are at the end of the season; being able to play teams at their best will help us accomplish this.
N-L: What are your personal goals and your team’s goals for this year?
MA: I’m so excited to see what this team can do and the journey it is going to take to get there. It is important we approach the season one day at a time, to maximize each opportunity for growth. We have goals to be completely dominant and play Hopkins volleyball every time we step onto the court — truly bringing it everyday in training and sustaining our level of play regardless of our competition. By focusing on our process, our goal is for it to result in maximizing the length of our season, keeping our family together as long as possible and ending with a National Championship.
The Blue Jays look to remain undefeated as they enter Conference play this Saturday, traveling to Pennsylvania for a doubleheader. Hopkins will first face the Bryn Mawr College Owls and then head to Collegeville, Pa. to face the Ursinus College Bears.