As the Atlantic 10 conference heads into its tournament championship games, it may have flown under the radar how well this year’s crop of VCU athletes managed to represent the student body in their respective sports. It’s been a season hallmarked by a winning culture on the field for Black and Gold.
Perhaps no one has been more emblematic of this rise than the women of the volleyball program.
The team recently won the Atlantic-10 conference’s regular season title — their first since 2009 — with a perfect 14-0 record. They now head to the A-10 tournament amid the nation’s longest winning streak, 25 games and counting.
How does a team come to win so many games? Junior middle blocker Tori Baldwin explains.
“The amount of time, dedication and love this team has for this sport is the reason we are doing so well,” Baldwin told the CT last week. “We all are rising as one, everyone is on the same boat paddling at the same time. When one falls, we all pick her up, there is no one left behind.”
While Baldwin reflects the team’s exploits have been an all around effort, it’s fair to point out some fantastic individual play has been crucial in this run. Baldwin has four A-10 player of the week honors this season. Sophomore middle blocker Jasmin Sneed and senior libero Rebekah Strange are right behind her with three. Two outside hitters, senior Alica Kandler and sophomore Vicki Giommarini, each have weekly titles under their belt.
It’s needless to say their No. 40 ranking in the RPI rankings is a travesty to say the least. An A-10 tournament win, which comes with a chance to play in the NCAA tournament, will likely rectify that.
Then there’s the men’s soccer team. The previously No. 19 Rams got all the way to the A-10 final before falling to the University of Massachusetts at Amherst 2-0.
This was only after a 2-0 win against the University of Rhode Island Friday in the Semi-final. Senior midfielder Rafael Andrade Santos notched his 12th goal of the season in emphatic fashion — a backheel finish from outside the penalty box which was grand enough to earn a spot on ESPN’s Sportscenter Top 10 countdown.
VCU’s second goal, another backheel from the touchline by sophomore forward Siad Haji was arguably a Top-10 contender in its own right.
But spectacular goals are only one distinguishing feature of an exciting season for the soccer team. Another is the strength and caliber of the schedule and wins. In October, the team thrashed the now-No. 9 ranked University of Maryland by three goals to none. A little less than a month earlier, the Rams beat No. 15 University of North Carolina at Wilmington.
No matter what happens in the NCAA tournament, the team can look back at their second-place finish in the A-10 regular season as an accomplishment. It was the team’s highest-ever finish in the A-10 and its best since 2010, when they finished second in the Colonial Athletic Association.
Among this season’s best Rams teams is the field hockey team, which finished the season with 14 wins, its most since 1992.
What first-year coach Stacey Bean called a rebuilding year certainly didn’t pan out that way. The Rams may have been disappointed to lose in the A-10 semifinal against UMass, but should take solace in the fact that it’s their first time reaching the tournament since 2013. It may not have been a ring-winning year, but the foundation for one may have been laid in 2017.
“We just had such a strong core to work with, that the only thing it took was the buy-in from the kids,” Bean said to the Richmond Times-Dispatch. “And, credit to them, because it doesn’t matter what we say as a staff or what we try to do in training as a staff. If they don’t buy in, then none of this happens.”
The women’s soccer team — who finished 7th in the conference — deserve credit as well for a phenomenal run to the tournament final where they lost to La Salle University.
If VCU students are keeping count of their blessings, the sports teams should definitely be considered a part of those. They’ve not only been entertaining, but have had blockbuster seasons.
Fadel Allassan , Contributing manager