Midway through last September, outside hitter Liz Hood ’15 recorded her 1,000th career kill for the women’s volleyball team, a high point of the year. Even though the team sputtered to a 10-25 record overall and went just 1-6 against University Athletic Association opponents, the Judges will look to a returning core of seniors and a new coach to bring them back to winning ways.

The Judges lost two players to graduation, Yael Einhorn ’14 and Si-Si Hensley ’14, both four-year starters for the squad. Einhorn played in 12 matches before her season ended early due to injury and Hensley was an offensive stalwart for the Judges, posting 227 kills and 389 digs over the course of the season. 

Alongside Hood, who led the team with 434 kills, the most of all UAA players, and recorded 336 digs, the team will be able to replace the lost production with defensive setter Elsie Bernaiche ’15. Bernaiche recorded a team-high 541 digs, second of all UAA players last year. The Judges will also return middle blocker Carly Gutner-Davis ’15 whose 0.36 blocks per set led the squad. 

The squad will look for defensive setter Amaris Brown ’16, middle blocker Summer Koop ’16 and setter Maggie Swenson ’16 to all once again play important roles on the team. Brown recorded 236 digs, good for fourth-most on the team. Swenson contributed a nice blend of both offense and defense to the squad with 26 kills, 138 digs and 11 blocks. Koop, used primarily in an offensive role, added 123 kills for the team to go along with 29 digs and 25 blocks. Middle blocker Maddie Engler ’16 will return from injury, and new coach Aleisa Vaccari thinks her presence will help replace the production lost from graduating players. 

“Engler got hurt at the beginning of the season last year and her stepping back and watching [on the sideline] made her even hungrier and will let us run a dominant middle offense,” she said. 

“We’ll make up for the losses in our defense. [The team is] looking to have more of a focus on defense, outdigging them and outhitting [their opponents],” she continued

With complimentary pieces alongside the offensive talent of Hood, the Judges could play spoiler for a number of UAA teams. 

The Judges will once again have to contend with nationally ranked teams, as the UAA features three ranked teams to open the season. Emory University, last year’s champion, begins the year ranked second in the nation; Washington University in St. Louis begins at No. 11; and the University of Chicago opens the year ranked 17th. The Judges will also face a tough test in New York University, who finished just outside the top 25 in the first poll.

Though the UAA will once again be a difficult conference, Vaccari thinks the team is up for the challenge. “Instead of having to play the number two team in the country, we get [challenged] to play the number two team in the country,” she said. “We’re embracing the underdog motto, we have nothing to lose [because] to be the best you have to play the best.”

Vaccari joins the squad after three years as the head coach at Simmons College, following the promotion of former head coach Michelle Kim to assistant athletic director last May.

The Judges open their season this weekend at the Western Connecticut State Invitational before their home opener in the Brandeis Invitational next weekend.