An Inside Look at the Four Georgetown Volleyball Freshmen
Nov. 1, 2011
WASHINGTON - The 14-10 record on the season and 6-5 BIG EAST conference record is indicative of the Georgetown University volleyball team playing passionately and fiercely with 10 women on the active roster. Wearing the blue and gray proudly when they step on the court, a major benefactor to the success and molding of the youth on the team is the fact that four freshmen are on the team, and all have seen significant playing time.
Paving the way for the future of Georgetown for the next three seasons are setter Kieley Culbertson (Grain Valley, Mo./Blue Springs) , defensive specialist MacKenzie Simpson (Greensboro, N.C./Northwest Guilford) , middle blocker Dani White (Mission Viejo, Calif./Mission Viejo) and outside hitter Alex Johnson (Tampa, Fla./Plant). There are rotations where all four are on the floor with the two seniors, setter Ashley Malone (San Jose, Calif./St. Francis) and captain libero Tory Rezin (Morris, Ill./Morris) .
Before the year kicked off, unexpected injuries plagued the Georgetown University volleyball team. Sophomore middle blocker Liz Riggins (Mission Viejo, Calif./Santa Margarita), who finished third on the team in kills last year with 193 and fourth in total points with 217 her freshman season, suffered a season-ending ankle injury prior to preseason play. Sophomore middle blocker Emmie Derback (Cape Coral, Fla./Canterbury School) also suffered a sidelining ankle injury, leaving the Hoyas to compete with two seniors, two juniors, two sophomores and the four freshmen.
Although the task has been daunting, and sometimes overwhelming when looking at the schedule, they've accepted their role in stride and are elated they've contributed to the success of the Hoyas this season, and are looking forward to their remaining tenure under Head Coach Arlisa Williams's tutelage.
GUHOYAS.com: When first committing to Georgetown, did you expect to see as much time as you have on the floor in your freshman season?
Kieley: For me, Arlisa told me my role for my freshman year and I accepted it from the beginning.
MacKenzie: I knew going in that there were two upperclassmen playing my position, so I was not expecting to get as much playing time that I am right now. But it's been amazing.
Dani: I wasn't 100% clear on how much time I would receive, although she told me at one of my final high school tournaments that I would be expected to start in the fall. It happened fast but it was exciting to learn and I took it in stride.
Alex: I knew that I would have an opportunity to contribute, but I wasn't sure just how much.
GUHOYAS.com: How excited were you when Arlisa sought you out and asked if you wanted to play under her at a very prestigious university?
Kieley: I was ecstatic. This is an amazing school with an amazing group of girls. It's the whole package and I love that I came here and will be here for a few more years.
MacKenzie: Simply put, I was ecstatic. No other word can describe how I was feeling. I was more than thrilled to know I was going to Georgetown.
Dani: Georgetown was my number one school, and upon commitment I was returning from a tournament. I would look at my mom every ten minutes like clockwork and scream jubilantly because we were so excited that it was a dream come true for me.
Alex: It was the first time I ever cried from being happy.
GUHOYAS.com: Your first season is almost in the bag, and you've had some great games and some games you want to take back. In the midst of that, you've had some great leadership with the two seniors, Ashley and Tory, along with the juniors and sophomores who've I'm sure taken you under their tutelage and help you improve your techniques. Kieley, how has Ashley been as an influence to make sure you're ready when the torch will be passed?
Kieley: Ashley has been a phenomenal role model and mentor for me. Before each practice, we'll do setting reps and warm up together. From day one, she has told me Arlisa's nuances and idiosyncrasies because every coach has their particular preference of game pace. She helps me out and always has my best interest at heart. If I do something that Arlisa won't necessarily like, she'll let me know prior to the start of practice so I won't get a lesson from her. She has my back.
GUHOYAS.com: Dani, how has Lindsay been of a benefit to you so you can protect the middle of the net to the best of your ability?
Dani: Lindsay has been a phenomenal role model and partner for me. We do all of our middle techniques together, and we have the same mutual respect for each other on and off the court. She's always focused and diligent in both her academic and athletic ability; she's intense and strives for perfection, making sure everything is perfect and right, and it makes me want to be just as diligent and dedicated as she is.
GUHOYAS.com: MacKenzie, how have Tory and Whitney (Jencks) been integral in helping you out during practice and in games, so when Tory leaves it'll be you and Whitney taking the reins?
MacKenzie: Tory and Whitney are a great support system and are always encouraging me throughout matches and practice. They are great players and I'm grateful that I have upperclassman to constantly give me advice and positive feedback.
GUHOYAS.com: Alex, how have Annalee and Brooke played a vital role in your learning process so you are more fierce and competitive on the floor when trying to terminate the ball and finish points?
Alex: Brooke is one of the hardest workers I've ever played with, and being in the same position as her has encouraged me to work harder to get better as well. She's a great role model. Annalee's determination and competitive spirit is extremely admirable. No matter what we're doing whether it's just practicing or playing in games, she always wants to win, and it helps me to always stay competitive.
GUHOYAS.com: How happy are you with the success of the team to this point, and how eager is the team to finish out the season and play in the postseason?
Kieley: We had an excellent and amazing October compared to seasons past, and the goal was to keep winning in October because school gets tough, the competition gets tougher and everything has an added level of importance. Sweeping consecutive weekends was awesome, and if we keep winning we'll get into the BIG EAST tournament.
MacKenzie: Even though we let some teams slip by I'm very happy with our record. I think all the girls are pretty excited at the opportunity of qualifying for the BIG EAST Tournament.
Dani: Our coaches keep telling us they have the utmost confidence and faith in us, so that motivates us to play harder. Considering we had some very close games throughout our season, it drives us forward because we want to be in Milwaukee in a few weeks, especially since we've swept the past two weekends; it motivates us to finish out the rest of the season strongly.
Alex: I think we have had some great wins, but at the same time we have had some very disappointing losses. This team is so talented and so capable of accomplishing the goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the season, and we all know that, so I would say we are extremely determined to make it to postseason.
GUHOYAS.com: After a win or loss, how easy or difficult is it to transition to the game ahead or the week ahead?
Kieley: As a team we do a great job of hashing out the losses immediately after the game; we talk about areas for improvement for the next week of practice to work on in the next game. Our focus is taking care of business. On the flip side, if we win then we're amped that night. We're joyous, but we know the next day is about going back to work for the next game.
MacKenzie: It is sometimes difficult coming back after a loss however we try to learn from it and use it to reach the goal of being in Milwaukee in November. The same can be said for a win, too.
Dani: When we do back to back weekends, if we lose, we're bummed, but the coaches do a good job of keeping us focused for the following day, so the loss is immediately behind us. But if we win, then we're thrilled about taking the first match out of two (especially on the road), but then we switch mentalities to the second match. We never worry about what went wrong or right on Friday because Sunday is a completely different team.
Alex: We always advocate putting the previous match behind us (win or loss) so that we're able to focus on the next opponent. We are mature enough at this point in our careers to learn from every match and use that experience to get better for the next match.
GUHOYAS.com: For example, when you swept both matches, the preparation was done for the week for both games, you won Friday, and so how easy is the mental switch from Friday's win to Sunday's upcoming match?
Kieley: Obviously if it's a loss, then it's never easy to lose and there's some degree of difficulty. I think by the next day we're focused and ready to surge ahead and watch film to refocus for the next team.
MacKenzie: I think our win on against Seton Hall Friday really gave us momentum for Sunday's match. We really tried to focus our attention towards Rutgers and made sure to have a good practice before going into our match the next day.
Dani: For us during any given set, the last point doesn't matter unless you earn the next point. So for a weekend of Friday and Sunday games, both games matter, but taking the second game after winning the first game gives us the extra momentum to head into our next opponent and continue working toward BIG EAST.
Alex: It is actually fairly easy. Arlisa says good job and commends us for what we did well, then it's on to what we need to work on in order to win the next one.
GUHOYAS.com: As freshmen, what're your favorite parts of the university and being a student-athlete, and what are the least favorable, if any exist?
Kieley: My favorite part is meeting new people, exploring the city because I'm from the Midwest, so it's a complete change of scenery and I'm always trying to embrace it. There isn't too much bad to discuss. Balancing work with school is a slight challenge, but with study hall it's a lot easier to manage. Most of all, I love shopping.
MacKenzie: Well I love all the gear that we get as well as the luxury of getting my laundry done, and the food from Leos is always good. I would have to say my least favorite part of Georgetown is how often is rains.
Dani: It's been difficult because we've been gone so many weekends throughout the semester, but the times we are on campus and in the city are that much more amazing. The bad part I would say is buckling down when focusing on the games that are on the weekend. We always talk about food too. Not boys, not school, but food.
Alex: My favorite aspect of being a student athlete is the camaraderie that we form with not just our teammates, but with other athletes as well. The least favorable would have to be the lack of free time.
GUHOYAS.com: Do you have a favorite dining hall? Favorite class?
Kieley: It might be Leo's.
MacKenzie: My favorite class is Calculus II, and my favorite dining hall would unquestionably be Leo's.
Dani: Leo's, because we're always going there and having dinner and being seen in public together.
Alex: My favorite class is my Humanities and Writing class. It is different from any English course I've ever taken because it's centralized on monsters in literature, so that makes it very interesting.
GUHOYAS.com: What's your major?
Kieley: I'm considering majoring in English to become an event planner.
MacKenzie: I'm currently undecided.
Dani: The intended major is Culture and Politics because I'm in the School of Foreign Services. It's difficult to focus on just one right now but my mind will be made up soon.
Alex: I'm undecided and still trying to find something that appeals to me.
GUHOYAS.com: Aside from the warm-up music, do you have a hype song you listen to before gameday?
Kieley: Make It Rain by Travis Porter.
MacKenzie: Hypnotize by Biggie Smalls.
Dani: Make It Rain by Travis Porter.
Alex: The song I listen to varies each week but usually it is some form of techno/dubstep or rap.
GUHOYAS.com: Do you have a favorite game from this past year so far?
Kieley: It was when my parents were here against West Virginia. Whenever they watch me play in person adds another dimension of importance and effort for me to play well. It also helps that we won.
MacKenzie: Syracuse is a highlight match for me. We all worked together to win in five by two points. It was really a fun game to play in as well as watch.
Dani: The James Madison weekend. Taking that weekend 3-0 after battling back every game to win was epic, and having so many people make all-tournament was awesome. Everything about it was amazing to experience and be a part of.
Alex: Wake Forest. It was the most cohesive team effort I think we've ever had and it made me so proud to be a Hoya.
GUHOYAS.com: Are you excited for the rest of volleyball season, the rest of freshman year and everything associated with moving up to sophomore year?
Kieley: Absolutely. I'm stoked to finish out the season and I'm also moderately excited to get into school mode for next semester. I'm also excited about meeting more people and focusing on being a student before jumping back into being an athlete again.
MacKenzie: I'm thrilled and hoping we continue the hot streak to make a run into BIG EAST play in a few weeks.
Dani: I'm also very happy to finish out the season and be in Milwaukee for BIG EAST. I'm acting as if we don't have a choice; it's imperative we make it. I'll also be ready for volleyball to slow down and reorient myself back into academic mode before next season.
Alex: Yes, I'm very excited to see where the rest of the season takes us; however it will be bittersweet because I will miss the seniors a lot.