Very few volleyball players get to walk off the court winners in their final match of the season. Sam Szarmach of St. Charles and Katie Rueffer of Batavia are hoping to experience that feeling this weekend as key members of the Elmhurst College women’s volleyball team.
The Bluejays (32-7) are set to face Salisbury University (Md.) this afternoon in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division III nationals in Holland, Mich. The winner of the match advances to Friday’s semifinals and the national champion will be crowned Saturday. All of the matches will be played at Hope College.
“It’s do-or-die at this point,” said Rueffer, a 5-foot-10 junior setter. “We just want to keep advancing. We don’t want to look past anybody.”
Elmhurst, ranked ninth nationally, will enter the match as a slight favorite over the 14th-ranked Seagulls (37-3).
“They’re really tall,” Rueffer said. “They’ve got some big guns on the outside. It should be a pretty good match-up for us.”
Rueffer and Szarmach, a St. Charles East graduate, both will be involved in trying to stop those hitters. Szarmach ranks fourth on the team in blocks with 57 this season and Rueffer is right behind her with 52.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Szarmach said of reaching the Elite Eight. “It’s something, honestly, that’s been on our agenda since the first day of the season.”
Szarmach, a 5-11 sophomore outside hitter, says the Bluejays weren’t sure at the start of the year if their goal of winning a national title was realistic.
“Now, it’s all coming together, and I think we really believe we can do it,” she said
Szarmach hopes the Bluejays can learn from last season, when they qualified for the national tournament but made an early exit.
“We were all, like, really nervous and didn’t play like we normally played,” she said. “You really have to calm yourself down if you want to be productive.”
Szarmach sees part of her job with the team as making sure everyone stays focused on the next point.
“My role is to keep people on that track,” she said. “I think I’ve definitely improved from last year and learning my role and what’s expected of me.”