Volleyball Opens the 2021 Season

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McKenna Lahr (above) sets herself to receive a serve in the opener against St. Johns. (Courtesy of Fordham Athletics)

Gigi Speer, Staff Writer

On Feb. 3, Fordham Volleyball celebrated both National Girls and Women in Sports Day along with the start of their 2021 season. After waiting well over a year to play with their fall season pushed back to spring because of COVID-19, the Rams were ready to embark on their new campaign, jumping out to an early lead against St. John’s University in the Rose Hill Gymnasium.

Senior outside hitter McKenna Lahr who transitioned to libero for Wednesday’s game noted, “Mentally, I and the team are so excited to finally be playing again after over a year without any games. It’s exciting but also filled with a bit of anxiety considering we are still in such uncertain times and anything could happen to disrupt our flow of practicing.”

With strict restrictions including temperature checks, COVID tests, social distancing, wearing masks during practices and games and limiting the number of people you are interacting with, being an in-season collegiate athlete requires being on your toes on and off the court. 

When asked about the toughest part of this unprecedented year, Lahr said, “Definitely just the fact that life has been disrupted so much by COVID for everyone, and will continue to be disrupted for the foreseeable future.” She continued, “Everyone has had to adapt to the changing environment with getting back in shape, new schedules, new conference format, and other details, that mixing that with school, career search, family and friends, and other factors outside of volleyball, it is very easy to get overwhelmed.”

Despite all the challenges, Lahr is grateful for the all-around effort shown in order to ensure her a senior season. “I never expected my senior year to turn out like this as I’m sure every other senior athlete can relate. With that being said, it is really so incredible how everyone is devoted to making spring seasons happen for all sports. As frustrating as COVID is, I can’t help but thank coaches, administration, sports medicine, facilities, and everyone else involved in making this happen. For a while I was trying to accept the fact that I wouldn’t play volleyball again and even just having the opportunity to play one more game is enough for me and I’m thankful to all those who are so instrumental in that.”

The Rams were ranked ninth in the Atlantic 10 Coaches’ preseason poll, yet Lahr says this does not define this year’s squad. “Our win streak last season gave us all the confidence we needed to realize and show others that we are a top competitor in the A-10 … It’s given us even more motivation to prove to everyone in our conference that we can win and people shouldn’t overlook us as being a strong team.”

Graduating crucial players could be tough for any program, but as proven in the game against St. John’s, the new additions joined ready to step up and show out. Freshman middle blocker Isabel Fichel finished with 12 blocks, and freshman outside hitter Whitley Moody racked up 14 kills.

“Most people would look at losing five instrumental players as negatively affecting a program, and while we all miss them and cherished their contribution to the team, we have five new players who are continuing to build up the program,” Lahr noted. “Not only is there a lot of talent and competitiveness within the first years, but returners have also stepped up and continued to improve over quarantine and break. It is really nice to see players step into themselves more and continue to grow with their role on the team and just in everyday life.”

Although the squad dropped 1-3 to the reigning Big East champions, their impressive first set and performances throughout the game provide a glimmer of hope for the chaotic months to follow. With both fall and spring sports competing after having competition halted and canceled due to the pandemic, it is an exhilarating start to a complicated yet wonderful time.

The world has been flipped upside down in the last year, and Lahr has had to change her perspective as well. “I used to be very goal-focused with volleyball, in terms of hitting numbers in the weight room, counting kills, digs, and hitting percentages; however, because a lot of those goals are not really attainable anymore, my new focus is to just have fun. Recognizing that these are my last months playing volleyball, I’m really just focused on enjoying my time on the court, my time as a collegiate athlete, and not taking it for granted,” she said. “I feel like it’s easy to get caught up in the unpleasant side of sports and I have definitely done that in the past, but now as long as I just play as hard as I can, regardless of the outcome this season, I want to be able to reflect on how much fun I had, despite the adversity and uncertainty.”