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Volleyball team starts season strong

September 19, 2013

The UW-River Falls women’s volleyball team has gotten off to a fast start this season, despite the fact that they have yet to play a game at home.

“It’s always a challenge not be able to play at home, especially when you’re successful,” said Head Coach Patti Ford, who is in her 22nd year of coaching the Falcons volleyball team. “I think in order for teams to be successful they have to learn to win on the road and that’s what we’re doing right now.”

Sophomore middle hitter Rebecca Gasper serves the ball against Gustavus Adolphus.
Sophomore middle hitter Rebecca Gasper serves the ball against Gustavus Adolphus. (Photo courtesy Patti Ford)

The team has been winning on the road as they have compiled a 10-4 record so far, and had an eight-game winning streak at one point. As of Sept., 19, the Falcons are in second place in the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WIAC) based on their overall record. Each team has only played one conference game so far.

The team only has two seniors on the roster, Kayla Slaiku and Jean Theis. They both attribute the early road matches to the success the team has already had, and the success they will have down the road.

“Being on the road is always crazy,” Slaiku said. “You get to know everyone’s real personalities and the way they live their lives, meaning you sleep next to them in hotels, watch what they eat, and how they react to situations. We are one big Falcon family.”

“We all click really well both on and off the court, and this is going to be one of our strong suits as a team in the future, I believe,” Theis said.

The team already accomplished a milestone this season. With their victory over Hamline University on Sept. 6, the team helped Ford notch her 500th career victory, with every one of her wins coming at UWRF. Ford is currently fifth all time in the WIAC for wins, and is one of two active coaches in the conference with over 500 wins.

“I’m really happy that our program was able to maintain the success we’ve had over the last 22 seasons,” Ford said. “Five-hundred is a big milestone. It’s just a tribute to all the people who have been involved with Falcon volleyball through the years.”

Ford has coached the Falcons to 16 winning seasons, including a run to the Sweet 16 in the NCAA tournament in 2003.

“I see a lot of characteristics in our current team that were with that group. We are hoping to replicate that in the coming years,” Ford said.

Slaiku echoed Ford’s thoughts on the current team, “I think this year, with this bunch of girls, will be great. If we do what we do best, we can strive for anything.”

Theis agreed, “I think that this team has an enormous amount of talent, and that we could be in the top of our conference if we just play our game and stay focused. If we can just stay consistent and play as one, then I have no doubts that we will be a very tough competitor for teams to beat.”

The Falcons played their first conference game Wednesday against UW-Superior and opened WIAC play with a win. They will play their first home game on Friday, Sept. 20, against UW-Stevens Point, which is currently ranked No. 25 in the country, according to the NCAA.

Playing against elite opponents is something which the Falcons do on a game by game basis.

“When you get into conference play every game is a big match. There is so much parity in our conference, which is demonstrated by three or four teams going to nationals every year,” Ford said. “In the upper Midwest you’re going to find some of the best collegiate volleyball. St. Thomas won the Div. III National Championship a year ago. So we know what we’re up against to get to a national stage.”

The Falcons will play St. Thomas, currently ranked No. 3 in the country, as a part of the UW-Eau Claire tournament on Oct. 11.

The team’s fast start has both Ford and the team excited for conference games to start, and for students to finally get a chance to watch the team in action.

“It is always a fun experience to play at home with all of our fans there supporting us. I could not be more excited to start conference play,” said Theis.