Juliana Pacini vs Franklin Pierce (image source: Jack Drolet)

The last time the women’s volleyball team hit the floor was November 17, 2019, which ended their season; their record was 14-13. This was before the NE10 canceled the 2020 season due to the pandemic when the team was hoping to improve. This season, the team looks to rise both as players and people. 

“My approach this season is totally different than in years before. My main goal is to help them be better people, not just better players,” said Head Women’s Volleyball Coach Dega Da Gama. “[The team] is really happy to be back at SNHU. They are working harder every day, and I believe that by the end of the season, they will be much better than at the beginning.” 

Da Gama has many years of coaching experience, but when an event such as COVID comes into play, keeping the same approach as the past is nearly impossible. He has been at the helm since 2017 and is very impressed with how his players have handled this new “normal.”

“The kids are doing really well and are working really well together,” said Da Gama. “That really surprised me because when the pandemic hit, I thought [the chemistry] would be bad.”

In college, each year comes with a different team, and with COVID as a factor, there is more difference than usual; Da Gama has noticed resilience in his players even with the adversity.

“We had to restart the program and we have a lot of new players,” said Da Gama. “Not just freshmen, but sophomores who weren’t here last year as well. What I like is that they are working together and [the team] is welcoming to new players. It has been really fun to be around those kids.”

Da Gama continues, “[The team] has created a really good environment. I think that is huge compared to years before. I was really worried about that, with COVID, but it was the opposite.”

Da Gama places a lot of his trust in his upperclassmen as they are the veterans of the team.

“The captains and the upperclassmen are doing an amazing job leading the program. I think the upperclassmen are the most important piece that we have this year,” said Da Gama.

Having such a young team, a lot of responsibility is thrust upon captains Juliana Pacini (’23) and Ramona Fontaine (’22).

“I expect [the team] to feel comfortable playing hard and to hold themselves accountable in every situation,” said Pacini. “We have been working hard on team bonding to build better team chemistry and apply that on the court. The connection is crucial; I expect them to get out of their comfort zone and learn how to be comfortable during uncomfortable situations.”

Fontaine has similar expectations as her co-captain and emphasizes the need to play as a team and gratitude for being back.

“I want them to be confident and positive; a lot of times we can get in our head and volleyball is such a team sport. Everyone has to work together,” said Fontaine. “It felt very different [to be back]. I missed being with the team on campus. That feeling is unmatched.”

At the point of October 4, the Penmen are 6-6 overall and 2-2 in conference play. Along with this, the team has had a lot of goals for the rest of their season.

“Our goal as a team is to go to the conference tournament,” said Da Gama. “The best eight teams in our conference make the conference tournament. Two years ago, we were one win away from going to the tournament.”

The Penmen are grateful for the opportunity to play and are happy to be together. Adjusting to this situation may be tough, but the Penmen are not alone in this fight.

“We have to adjust to this reality. It’s not just SNHU; it’s everyone else in the country,” said Da Gama.  “At the end of the day, at least we are playing sports this season.”