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Conference Dominance: Howard Volleyball’s Storied Success, and One Senior’s Pledge to Take it Further Than Ever Before

Photo Courtesy of Alex Smith.

Peanut butter and jelly. Cookies and milk. Bread and butter. These iconic pairings don’t hold a candle to the pairing of Howard University Volleyball and success in recent years, as the team’s annual capture of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference championship has become a mere formality. 

This success is exactly what head coach Shaun Kupferberg envisioned for the team when taking the position 10 years ago. The team’s 2021 MEAC championship victory marked six such victories in seven years, and their 13th title overall.

The Hilltop had the opportunity to sit down and speak with senior outside hitter Alex Smith about her journey on the team, outlook on the team’s future, and goals for the upcoming season. Smith tallied 40 digs in the 2021 season, and as one of four seniors on this upcoming year’s team, looks to use her veteran leadership to lead the team to new heights. 

Q: So first off, Alex, you’re a senior, so you obviously have grown alongside the team and have had a tremendous amount of success whilst doing so. What do you personally think is so different about this team that has allowed it to amass such success and be so dominant in the conference?

A: In my opinion, I believe that after coming up on my 4th year on the Howard University volleyball team, this is the most amount of talent we’ve had thus far. We have amazing athletes in all positions that are competing at the highest level on a daily practice pushing everyone to play at their highest potential. Through our success in the past, we’ve been able to recruit high-level athletes every year which has led to our stacked team and overall success. This has been proven through our MEAC preseason nomination as #1 in the conference.

Q: You mention that preseason ranking of #1, how are you guys working as a team to stay humble and not allow the hype to get to your head, while also not allowing yourselves to get complacent coming off of a tournament win last season?

A: Honestly by being grateful for the nomination but knowing that our ultimate goal for the season is to go past the first round of the NCAA tournament. We have high expectations for ourselves and so do our coaches. Although we are hardworking athletes we practice humility on a daily basis by knowing there are millions of other women who would love the ability to be on such a great team. This aids our team in being ultimately appreciative for the opportunity to play at such a high level and never take our positions for granted. We’re not complacent in our achievements, but hungry for more.

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Q: So from what I understand and the research that I’ve done, you are one of only four seniors on this year’s team, so the team is relatively young. Do you feel an extra sense of responsibility within yourself to ensure that these goals are met, whether that be increasing your roles as a leader, and working to instill the right mindset in your younger teammates so that the success can continue post your graduation?

A: Without a doubt, I feel that it’s my responsibility to ensure that these goals are met. Team culture is key and by proving a respectful, transparent, positive, and nurturing environment for incoming freshmen I feel that that is the best way to lead the team to a successful season 

Q: Speaking of that hunger, I want to take you to this upcoming season. Sky high expectations, an extremely talented team as you mentioned. What about how you prepare and execute this upcoming season is going to be different, or do you go about business as usual, considering how well it has gone for you so far?

A: We definitely don’t go about our season as business casual. Specifically more practices, individual sessions, more managers aiding in our success, a mental health specialist on standby, etc. We set new goals every season and change our strategies in order to reach the ultimate goal of taking down a top 50 team in the NCAA D1 tournament first round. I believe this is the year it will happen. I have no doubt we will make history if we stick to our game plan, stay confident, and stay hungry. 

Copy edited by Nhandi Long-Shipman

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