Success Starts With S…eniors

Two key contributors, a team captain, a 2014 All-MAAC Tournament honoree and a 2012 MAAC Rookie of the Year. That is the 2015 senior class for the Manhattan College volleyball team.

It is a class that has helped Manhattan achieve levels of success it has rarely reached in its history. Although each individual of the five-member class has played a different role in that success, they have all contributed in some way that has led Manhattan to the position it is in today — a top team in the MAAC with a shot to win a championship.

Jade Gray and Claire Van Dyk were two of the five seniors honored on Senior Day. Photo by Daniel Ynfante
Jade Gray and Claire Van Dyk were two of the five seniors honored on Senior Day. Photo by Daniel Ynfante

On Saturday, Clare Bozzo, Jade Gray, Teodora Peric, Claire Van Dyk, and Sydney Volovoski were honored in front of their friends and families. And of course, it was only fitting that Senior Day culminated with a three-letter word which the seniors have become accustomed to hearing in their careers: with a win.

“They’ve all been here for the success of the program,” Mark Jones, Manhattan’s head coach said about the senior class. “They’ve been here for the 20-win seasons. All they know is success. They’ve helped the underclassmen understand what the program is about and understand what we do here. We win.”

The 2015 senior class is a unique one. Of the five members, three are transfer students. Gray transferred after her freshman year at Golden West College; Peric after her freshman year at American University; and Van Dyk after her sophomore year at Bryant. Only Bozzo and Volovski are Jones’ recruits.

For Gray, now a team captain, her role on the team is something she never imagined when she first came to Manhattan.

“I didn’t,” Gray said about whether she expected to play a key role on the team when she transferred to Manhattan. “Especially being a captain two years in a row, it’s very humbling to do that.”

But when she initially arrived at Manhattan, Gray was right. She was not the starting setter and team captain she is today. She was a contributor off the bench who served as Peric’s backup.

But an unfortunate injury to Peric at the midpoint of the 2014 season opened up the way for Gray to start.

On Oct. 11, 2014, in her first crack in the starting lineup, Gray delivered a career performance, registering nine kills; 43 assists; and 12 digs. Just a day later, Gray proved her performance wasn’t a fluke and that she was here to stay, finishing the match with four kills, 54 assists and 12 digs. Since then, the setter position has belonged to Gray.

Although Peric lost her job to Gray, she has remained a key cog in Manhattan’s rotation, often splitting time with Gray at setter. The two have not let the competition between each other affect their relationship.

“We have a great friendship,” Gray said about her bond with Peric. “We just do a really great job together. She gets the job done, I get the job done, it’s whatever Mark wants. We’re both very supportive to each other and I honestly couldn’t ask for a better co-setter with me.”

While Gray didn’t expect to become one of Manhattan’s leaders when transferring, Van Dyk did.

At Bryant, Van Dyk was one of the best players in her conference, placing ninth in the league in kills during her rookie season and leading her team with 346 kills in her second year.

But the individual success wasn’t what Van Dyk craved. She just wanted to win.

“The team I mainly chose it because we have a great chance to win a conference tournament and that has always been my goal since I started playing volleyball in college,” Van Dyk said about coming to Manhattan. “I want to go to the NCAA Tournament and out of the teams I had other offers from, I thought this was the team that had the best possibility of going there.”

At Manhattan, Van Dyk has been as good as advertised. Last season, she was one of four players on the team to play in all 131 sets. She was seventh in the MAAC with 2.85 kills per set and eighth in the conference with .31 service aces per set.

This season, Van Dyk has been at the head of Manhattan’s offense and defense, leading the team with 3.1 kills per set and placing second with 3.7 digs per set.

“You never picture your career being this way,” Van Dyk said, “and I’m very happy with how it turned out. I transferred here and am really happy with my decision, so Mark and the program did a lot for me, and I am extremely appreciative about that.”

Heading into the season, it was expected that Van Dyk would share the offensive spotlight with Volovski, who for the past three years, has been one of Manhattan’s biggest offensive threats.

However, a recurring injury throughout the season has kept Volovski in and out of the lineup and has limited her production.

On Senior Day, Volovski was not able to dress, but her efforts to get Manhattan to this point and to be a part of the group that has changed the culture for the program were not forgotten.

In four seasons, Volovski was named the MAAC Rookie of the Year in 2012 and consistently placed in the top three on the team in kills per set.

Like her, Bozzo was also not able to dress for the contest. An injury early in the season has limited her to just three matches.

But Bozzo has also played a part in Manhattan’s success. Although she didn’t play in any matches her first two seasons, Bozzo became a starter last season and averaged .9 kills per set, along with 41 blocks, good enough for fourth on the team.

“It’s unfortunate for their circumstances, but there’s been years where they’ve been such an integral part being on the court and playing well as a team,” Jones said about Bozzo and Volovski. “They were both starters last year and they helped the program get to 21 wins, so we know what they can do.”

For all the accolades and individual accomplishments the senior class has achieved, there is still one looming: winning a championship.

With two matches left in the season, Manhattan is still in prime position to finish in the top two in the conference, securing a bye all the way to the MAAC Semifinals.

But even if the team doesn’t end up with a bye, it knows can make a run in the tournament.

“We still have a goal of going to the NCAAs,” Jones said. “I think we’re going to end up doing that, but the leadership is going to have to start with the seniors.”