With only three seniors on this year’s roster, coach Bakeer Ganes has utilized several of his younger players during recent weeks. Freshmen Caroline Grattan and Tyler Davis, in particular, have received significant playing time.
“They definitely have increased the quality of our team,” Ganes said. “We knew that when we recruited them, and I am glad to see that they adjusted so soon and so fast to the different speed and intensity required to compete at the college level. We knew they were going to be really good, but we didn’t expect them to make this progress so fast, and that’s a great thing for us.”
Grattan, a native of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Davis, who is from Palm Desert, Calif., are not only playing, but contributing as well. Both are among the top of the team in kills (2.53 per set for Grattan and 2.15 per set for Davis) and they have a combined 10 games where they’ve had double-digit kills.
“It’s been really nice to step in and contribute in my first year,” Grattan said. “It’s definitely been a change to what I thought was going to happen. I didn’t expect to get much playing time, especially during preseason when a lot of people were healthy. Being able to play has given me a lot of opportunity to prepare myself for the future.”
“It’s really cool to be able to play and get the experience because it’s such a step up from club,” Davis said. “It’s been amazing to get the exposure early on. I am trying to soak it all in because I know a lot of freshmen don’t get the opportunity that [Grattan] and I have been fortunate enough to get this season.”
Grattan has played in 15 of the 17 games for the Owls, while Davis has played in 12. The situation the two freshmen find themselves in is similar to the one seniors Gabriella Matautia and Elyse Burkert experienced three years ago during their rookie seasons.
“[Burkert] and [Matautia] have been instrumental to their development process,” Ganes said. “Even though both of these freshmen are doing great, they are still freshmen and they will make their mistakes. It’s important for us to be patient, and they know that they have a lot to learn still. They know that every time they practice and play with these upperclassmen, they are getting better. They are very coachable, and they work really hard on their game trying to reach their full potential.”
Grattan said she believes the work she does in practice translates to how quickly she has adapted to the college level.
“Playing with the team during scrimmages and practice is a good indicator of how hard we are going to have to play during the games,” Grattan said. “I think learning from the seniors on the team and how well they’re playing, what they’re doing and to actually score points against them makes us act like them and handle situations that may be too big for us.”
Davis credited the seniors for her and Grattan’s success.
“They have been really encouraging throughout the whole thing,” Davis said. “They want us to succeed because we’re going to help the team succeed. It’s nice knowing that they have our backs and not look at us like, ‘Oh my gosh, where do you guys play?’ They’re really happy to see us playing, and I think that is a huge help in our development process.”
Ganes said he knew he landed two top recruits when Grattan and Davis signed their letters of commitment. He said they are physically gifted and received college-like training at the club level.
“Both of them physically have good abilities,” Ganes said. “They have great size for outside hitters, they both have long arms, they are pretty athletic. Both of them have been coached by really established club coaches, some of the training they have received really put them ahead of regular freshmen. Combination of all that helps them play at a high level when we put them into these big matches.”
Rich Fogel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @RBFogel26.