Ten days before preseason practices began Aug. 1, freshmen Hannah Vandegrift and Mia Heirakuji took a trip to Vandegrift’s hometown of Leesburg, Virginia.
The pair hiked Great Falls Park in McLean, Virginia. They also visited the Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and went paddleboarding in the Chesapeake Bay.
Eventually, the two freshmen ended up in Washington D.C. where they biked to the Lincoln Memorial and Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History.
After their first taste of what it is like to be Division I athletes during summer workouts, the roommates’ time off was much needed, they said.
“We aren’t getting a break until Christmas,” Vandegrift said. “So, we should take every opportunity that comes our way to have time to yourself.”
The duo, along with middle blocker Carla Guennewig, form the Owls’ 2015 freshman class.
With 12 players returning, including five starters, from a 24-win season a year ago, playing time for the freshmen may be scarce. But Vandegrift, a setter, is looking to make an impact this season.
“I still feel like I am learning,” Vandegrift said. “I can’t pinpoint my role yet. I do offer a fresh image. I like to put the ball everywhere, keeping it from the other team and not letting them get settled.”
Heirakuji, who flew from her home of Kailua, Hawaii to Philadelphia July 4 to join the team, is trying to fit into a role as the libero on Coach Bakeer Ganesharatnam’s roster.
“I definitely want to contribute to the team somehow,” Heirakuji said. “Whether I get playing time or not, I want the team to become better. I know I can do that by giving my all in practice and pushing my teammates.”
As the trio of freshmen begin their transition to collegiate volleyball, the rest of the team is making an effort to make the freshman class feel welcomed.
“Hannah and I came about the same time,” Heirakuji said. “So we went through it together, thank God. Everyone is constantly working hard and you will always hear encouragement, no one is ever putting anyone down, which makes it a great environment to be in.”
Guennewig, a native of Muenster, Germany, did not arrive on Main Campus until mid-July, so she only practiced in two of the summer training sessions.
“Right at the beginning, they are all having finals and were really working hard with homework and studying,” Guennewig said. “The team did take very good care of me during the time we did have.”
While the freshmen are still unsure of what their roles will be this season, they have already bought into the team’s goal of winning the American Athletic Conference.
“The team set the tone for us new girls and it is pushing us to play at the highest level,” Heirakuji said. “They have already exemplified the kind of hard work we need to put in this first week of preseason, in order to be successful and come out on top of the conference.”
Connor Northrup can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.