ALBANY — From before its unusual season even started, the UAlbany women’s volleyball team had a motto to follow.
“We get to.”
Kamara Kelly, a sophomore on this season’s America East Conference regular-season champions, credited freshman Allie Sturgess with coming up with that three-word phrase that’s become a rallying cry for the Great Danes, one that serves as a reminder that little, if anything, has been guaranteed to anyone in the last year.
“There’s a lot of schools that didn’t have athletics this last year,” Kelly said Wednesday, ahead of the team’s regular-season ending matches this weekend at New Hampshire. “So every time we step on the court, it’s a we-get-to thing.”
UAlbany has brought that type of attitude to the court throughout its season, which started just more than a month ago rather than late in the summer like during a regular school year due to changes made because of the novel coronavirus pandemic. UAlbany head coach Josh Pickard said his team’s “very thankful” just to have had the chance to play this season, and that gratitude has helped fuel the club’s energy and enthusiasm.
“This team came together,” Pickard said, “and realized this isn’t a normal year.”
What’s been normal for the Great Danes is the success they’ve had on the court. In Pickard’s first season leading UAlbany, the Great Danes won their conference championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament. This season’s club has already earned the right to host the conference championship game against a yet-to-be-determined opponent on April 2. UAlbany is 10-2 overall this season and 9-1 in league play.
“We all have the same mindset: we’ve got to put it all out on the floor every single time,” said junior Charlotte Macken, a Shenendehowa High School graduate. “We have no time to really waste at this point, so I’m really proud of how we’re doing. We have so much potential, so I’m really looking forward to our next steps.”
Those immediate next steps take UAlbany to New Hampshire this weekend. UAlbany will conclude its regular season this weekend with a Saturday matchup against NJIT and a Sunday matchup against New Hampshire, with both contests taking place in Durham, New Hampshire.
Those matches won’t affect UAlbany’s position atop the conference — and Macken doesn’t expect that to matter to the Great Danes’ approach.
“With the group of girls that we have, we are so determined this season,” Macken said. “We have such a wide range of talent on our team, and it’s so competitive each and every day. So I think we’re all going to be ready and prepared, no matter what.”
Pickard’s program does include plenty of talent. The America East has awarded weekly conference honors five times this season, and UAlbany athletes earned three of the Player of the Week awards and two of the five Defensive Specialist of the Week honors. Kelly earned two of the player-of-the-week honors and senior Danielle Tedesco took one, while Macken earned both individual defensive awards. Kelly leads UAlbany in kills with 160 and Macken leads in digs at 208, while sophomore Malea Stanton leads in assists with 216 and sophomore Noa Brach leads in blocks with 50.
UAlbany won its first nine league matches before falling 3-0 Monday against Stony Brook, part of a 3-1 showing for the Great Danes over two days of matches against Hartford and Stony Brook. While UAlbany is heading into this weekend’s matches with its spot in the championship match secured, that loss helped motivate the team this week.
“Losing does humble you,” Kelly said. “It makes you realize that, OK, there are some things that we need to work on. I think when we lost it showed some flaws in the way that we play and our technique, and that’s something we can work on in practice.”