Kerry Carr could have opted to select her whole senior class as the team’s group of captains for a second straight year. But that would have meant having no captains.
The Penn volleyball class of 2016 was spectacular. Alexis Genske, Alex Caldwell, Jasmine DeSilva and Michellie McDonald-O’Brien posted the team’s four best kills per set averages, while setter Ronnie Bither led the Ivy League in assists per set. The five seniors were, in addition to being great players, great leaders, which practically forced Carr to select an unprecedented five captains for that year’s team.
“Every team, I listen to everybody’s input,” the coach said. “And last year the problem was that everybody said, ‘I can’t choose between them.’”
The Penn volleyball class of 2017, however, is non-existent, with a grand total of zero seniors donning the Red and Blue this season. So after a season in which the team relied on senior leadership and production, this year’s squad will have to turn to the junior class to play the role of the elder statesmen.
The six juniors — outside hitters Aimee Stephenson, Hayley Molnar and Michelle Pereira; setter Sydney Morton; middle blocker Kendall Covington and libero Emmy Friedler — won’t all be captains. Carr opted for a more traditional total of two this time around, with the honor ultimately going to Covington and Morton.
The process of picking captains was a long one, with the team using the spring season to try out several options.
“We had an opportunity to put in several different leaders,” Carr said. “Everybody got a shot that wanted to be captain.”
“We started out with eight potential captains, and we each had two weeks to [act as] captains in the spring,” Morton explained. “The coaches narrowed it down to four, and then everyone picked out who they wanted to be captain, and it ended up being K-Cov and I.”
On a young team that will need all the confidence in the world to replace a quintet of star players, the two new captains are confident in what they bring to the table.
“I think I have a very good relationship with everyone on the team,” Morton explained. “I can go to anyone on the team and they respect me and will open up to me if need be. So I think that was part of it. Plus, K-Cov and I are really hard workers, so I think leading by example is certainly part of it as well.”
Covington certainly didn’t shy away from the label of a hard worker who will lead by example:
“Every time I come in the gym, [I play like] my spot’s never just saved for me. I’m always competing for my spot,” Covington said. “I’m always talking to the coaches, getting feedback from them, seeing what I need to improve on. There’s always something for me to improve on.”
Carr was not surprised by the results of the search for her 2016 captains.
“I think what it came down to is, the people who led even the weeks they weren’t ‘captain,’ they ended up becoming captains. So naturally it came down to two people who were already leaders on the team. The team having complete confidence in both of them to lead [was a huge factor],” she said.
“And that they were different. We knew that they were each going to give something different back to the team. One was more organizational [Morton], one was more motivational [Covington], but they have enough different qualities that they ran a huge gamut of leadership, and I thought that was very important for a large team.”
And so far, it looks like the correct choice was made.
“They’ve been doing fantastic,” Carr said of the new captains. “What they’ve done is set the culture, and made sure to ask everybody’s opinion, and get everybody’s input, and made really good decisions for the team. They put team-first ahead of their own personal agenda.”
But in addition to being thrilled with her two captains, Carr found the selection process to be very rewarding as it relates to the rest of the team, especially the other four juniors.
“We got to see great leadership qualities come out of a lot of different people. I identified a lot of leadership qualities in others, so I think that strengthened our team overall.”
So while Stephenson, Molnar, Pereira and Friedler won’t wear the mantle of captain — at least not this season — they will play huge roles in helping to replace the leadership of last year’s senior class.
“I told the juniors, you keep leading every way you know how,” Carr recalled. Just because you don’t have a title doesn’t mean you stop being a leader. So it’s been really fun watching these other juniors come forth and lead the team in some areas, and respectfully defer to the captains when it’s their time. And also the captains have delegated things to them so that they can lead in their own way.”
And for the two captains, the lack of a senior presence isn’t a problem, but rather an exciting challenge.
“It’s really exciting because we have no seniors, our team’s super young, so we have this really positive vibe about us right now,” Morton said. “It’s gonna be hard to replace them, because they were amazing people and amazing players and amazing leaders. But K-Cov and I are going to try our best to fill the shoes that they left, and I think we’re doing a good job right now.”
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