The volleyball team huddles during a game on Sept. 2. (Natalie Sandlow/Staff Photographer)

The Emory University volleyball team is in the midst of a historic season. At 14-0, the squad has climbed up the rankings to No. 5 in the nation and set a school record for most wins to open a campaign.

The Eagles have risen to every challenge so far this year, including wins against No. 13 Berry College (Ga.) and University Athletic Association (UAA) conference opponent No. 10 New York University. The team currently sits atop the UAA standings at 5-0 and looks to retain the UAA Championship title from last season.

Senior outside hitter Carly Wallace said that much of the team’s on-court success can be attributed to their cohesiveness and chemistry off the court.

“I just love being with the team,” Wallace said. “We have a really strong team culture, we’re all supporting each other, so it’s just been a really fun thing to be a part of.”

This supportive culture doesn’t stop with the players. New Volleyball Head Coach Brianna Jones said the team wasted no time embracing her and finding a groove.

“It’s really the athletes just being so open,” Jones said. “With me coming in, they had no reservations. They were willing to learn and adapt to my coaching style, while also adapting to my style of play and the small things that I wanted to change.”

Jones, who was an assistant coach for Emory from 2017 to 2020 before spending the past two seasons as the head coach for Stevens Institute of Technology (N.J.), also attributed her early success to preexisting relationships with many of the underclassmen she recruited. Wallace added that Jones’ past experience with the program has made the change of head coach easier.

“It’s just cool getting a new fresh take on a lot of things from a coaching standpoint,” Wallace said. “She was here before, so she knows a lot about our culture, what we stand for, and we share a lot of similar values. So it’s been a pretty seamless transition.”

Jones also noted a more calculated mental approach can lead to success on the court.

“Volleyball is such an emotional sport in general,” Jones said. “So for me, the more calm and free they play, the better they’ll play. They’re not playing because it’s a job or because they have to.”

Junior defensive specialist and libero Deborah Hong has been a major contributor this season, taking home three UAA Athletes of the Week honors, as well as leading the UAA conference in digs. She said that “being present one point at a time” has played a large part in her individual success.

“The past two years, I was really focused on, ‘OK, I need to do this to win the game, I need to do this to help my team win this set,’” Hong said. “But instead, this year, I’m more of, ‘Let’s focus on this point, let’s focus on what we’re doing in the moment so that we can win this point and then eventually we can win the game.’”

Throughout all of the Eagles’ success this season, the team has remained undeterred by the pressure to maintain their high standard.

“There’s been a big focus on not putting pressure on ourselves and not putting pressure on who we’re playing,” Hong said. “That’s been a contributor to our success because it’s made us focus on what we hope to do … and then that we are capable of doing whatever we can. So, not putting that internal pressure on ourselves has helped keep out that external pressure.”

As the Eagles look ahead to the final stretch of the regular season, they recognize that their UAA opponents present “great competition,” according to Hong. She said the team experienced these tough opponents firsthand during their first UAA conference weekend in September when they beat the University of Chicago, University of Rochester (N.Y.) and Carnegie Mellon University (Penn.).

Hong said that falling behind two sets to one against Carnegie Mellon was the biggest challenge the team had faced up to that point, but maintaining their positive attitude ultimately drove them to victory.

“We stayed calm throughout the entire time and even though we didn’t play our best volleyball, we knew that we could win, and we took all the things that we can control,” Hong said. “We stayed positive, we gave lots of energy, and we stayed disciplined, and that’s what helped propel us to win the next set and eventually the game.”

There are also aspects of on-court performance that the Eagles will look to keep improving. Jones said she has been excited by the defense and that the team is consistently trending up in that regard.

“We are a great blocking team and a defensive team,” Jones said. “We make rallies so long for opponents, and we make it very tough for them to score … I’m excited to watch us grow more in that realm because the more defensive-driven we are, the better we’re gonna get.”

The Eagles will look to extend their win streak at Covenant College (Ga.) on Oct. 20 at 6 p.m.

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Will Peck (25Ox) is from Chesterton, Indiana and currently an undecided student. In his free time, he enjoys going on bike rides, watching Chicago sports, and listening to music.