Millikin’s Volleyball Team

They’re All in, But do the Fans Feel the Same?

Millikin University’s most successful and arguably best sport over the last few years is women’s volleyball. Over the last three seasons, the Big Blue has won three straight College Conference of Illinois and Wisconsin (CCIW) regular season titles. The team has also played in the NCAA Division III Volleyball Championships over the last two seasons.

        In 2016, Millikin went 28-12 overall and 7-1 in the CCIW, also making it to the third round of the NCAA Division III Championship, losing to Calvin College.

        Last season, Millikin went 29-8 overall and 8-0 in the CCIW. Yet again, the team went on to the NCAA Division III Championship, making it to the second round, losing to Calvin College again. At the end of their season, Millikin was ranked 12th in the final American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) poll.

        Gabby Coulthard, a sophomore who plays right side for Millikin’s volleyball team, has had her life revolve around volleyball for quite some time now.

        Coulthard has played the game since she was in fifth grade. When asked why she decided to continue the commitment of volleyball in college, she takes it back to her high school days. “I was a tri-sport athlete all throughout high school,” Coulthard said. “Between high school sports (on and off season), club volleyball, and AAU basketball, I was constantly busy.”

Coming back to the present, Coulthard said, “I was not ready to drop everything, and I always had a love for volleyball. That was the one sport I really did not want to drop.”

        Since Coulthard is an elementary education major, coaching volleyball teams is not something she is unfamiliar with. Coulthard currently coaches the elementary girls’ volleyball team at Dennis Lab in Decatur. Although she has thought about coaching further down the road, she does not necessarily want to commit herself to coaching just yet. She wants to “see where life takes me first.”

        During the volleyball season, practices consist of three hours a day. The team must be ready (stretched, hair up, shoes on, knee pads on) 20 minutes early. They lift twice a week. Coulthard says that the practices are “pretty intense.”

        The off-season practices consist of lifting three days a week and open gym time once a week.

        The spring season is like a mini regular season. Practices are help at that time and there is a tournament that the team plays in towards the end of the “mini season.”

        The biggest strength the team has in Coulthard’s opinion is that they have good chemistry with the players on their team. Teammate and junior Lexi Ross added that everyone has their own, separate strengths. When the girls bring their own strengths together, “it makes the team more powerful.”

        With every strength comes a weakness, thankfully for the Big Blue, their weakness is not necessarily a bad thing. Although only one freshman starts, the team has a handful of young players. New additions to the team mean spending extra time training the players to the routines the sophomores, juniors, and seniors already have become accustomed to. Even though Lauren Brummel (outside hitter) is the only freshman who has been starting, Coulthard says that the freshman class is “a really good class overall.”

        So far this season, the team has gone 3-3. Coulthard said the team is “not where we would like to be, but we are constantly making progress each week.” When it comes to dealing with losses, the team takes it as a learning experience.

        Although the season has not had the start players were hoping for, odds of ending the season on a good note is pretty high.

        When asked if Millikin has a good chance of winning the CCIW conference this season, Coulthard said, “The CCIW overall for volleyball is a tough conference. Any team can beat anyone on any given day. As a team, we need to show up, both physically and mentally, for each match. It is also extremely possible for Millikin to win more than just the CCIW conference.”

        Millikin volleyball could be on their way to win their fourth CCIW conference, so why are stands not overflowing with fans every game? Ross said that the reason is because “We are a women’s sport. We are not talked about as much and not advertised like football.”

For away games, parents are the majority of the crowd, not students. This is understandable to an extent. Not everyone has a car and sometimes the games are pretty far away. However, the fan turnout for the home games are kind of embarrassing.

Ross says that “The girls’ basketball and softball team attend every game if they have nothing going on. Football players sometimes come out to show their support.” Besides that, most of the time the volleyball team lacks a huge crowd.

There are multiple benefits to attending home volleyball games for fans and even the team. When there is a good-sized crowd, Ross says that it is a “better atmosphere” and it “hypes the team up.” For fans, there is a chance to see another season that will go down in Millikin athletic history. Millikin’s volleyball team has proved for the last three years that they deserve just as much, if not more, crowd and fan support from Millikin students like the football team has.