The Endicott women’s volleyball team hadn’t lost a conference match since the 2018 season, so it came as a bit of a shock when the Gulls dropped a 3-1 result at neighboring Gordon in the final week of the regular season. It meant that Gordon would host the Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Tournament and maybe deny Endicott a third straight trip to the NCAA DIII Tournament.
“We definitely did not like losing to them,” said senior setter Lauren McGrath. “I think we’re definitely motivated since that was such a tough loss and everyone knew, you could see on our faces how upset we were. We just need to improve and fix our mistakes and we know what we need to do now.”
The former Franklin standout and 2018 HockomockSports.com Player of the Year noted how much fun it would be to celebrate the conference title on Gordon’s court and, a week later, she got to do just that.
Endicott swept Nichols and Western New England in the first two rounds to get a rematch with Gordon in the CCC final. McGrath finished with 35 assists, eight digs, two aces, and a kill, as the Gulls swept aside their rivals to win a third straight CCC crown and fifth in the past six years. It also secured a third straight NCAA Tournament appearance for McGrath.
“It’s been a rollercoaster ride but I think we’ve shown out and beaten some good competition,” McGrath said in a phone conversation before the Gulls opened the CCC Tournament against Nichols. “I think we’ve put a lot of effort, us as upperclassmen, we’ve grown with the underclassmen a lot and it’s been really fun. Everyone is working so hard.”
Success is nothing new for McGrath, who started at setter for Franklin as a sophomore and her senior year helped the Panthers win the Kelley-Rex division title and win the Div. 1 Central/West title for the first time. She was also a standout for her club teams, Smash and Envy. In her final season at Endicott, McGrath was determined to add another title to her impressive resume.
“I think that winning at Gordon would make the season amazing,” she said. “To prove that we can beat them and win the championship would be a great feeling. Winning at home with everyone you know, a big crowd, is amazing, but I think winning on the road in the championship would be awesome. Celebrate on their court, and we will for sure.”
Sports have been an integral part of McGrath’s life. She played multiple sports growing up, picking up volleyball in seventh grade. When she arrived at Franklin, McGrath chose volleyball over field hockey that fall, a decision that has carried her all the way to the NCAA Tournament and to be among the career leaders in assists at Endicott.
Although volleyball was a serious commitment in high school, playing at the collegiate level was a new challenge. Combining a tough practice schedule with lifting and with classes took things to another level.
“It’s time-consuming and you have to manage your time well,” she explained. “College is a different culture, I’d say it’s more of a family. We’re all very close, we hang out all the time outside of volleyball. It’s a different feeling because it means so much more than playing in high school. I know it’s DIII, but it is very important to all of us and we all depend on each other. It’s a lot of work but work that I’m willing to put in.”
As a freshman at Endicott, McGrath didn’t get many opportunities to be the setter. She took on a role as a defensive specialist, only getting the chance to set against some of the weaker teams on the schedule. Her sophomore year was going to be the first chance for McGrath to take the reins of the offense, but then COVID hit and the pandemic shut down the season.
“We had to split up practices,” McGrath recalled. “Only some of us could go on one side of the court and it was half and half, they called it pods. It was difficult because we were separated from our own team and you would get close to the people you were with every day. It was a little hard to even get motivation because practice was all over the place, we didn’t even know what was going to happen next, who had COVID, it put a damper on us”
The pandemic was a reminder of how short the college career is and added an extra layer of conviction to come out strong for the 2021 season.
“We did get really close because we quarantined in the same hotel together,” McGrath said. “We were all just joking around, talking because we were all in one hotel room, so it was kind of fun. We all love volleyball and we all want to play as much as we can, so we got captain’s practices in the spring and we tried to play as much as we could.”
In high school, McGrath was the lone setter, bearing the responsibility for the Panthers’ attack. At Endicott, McGrath has shared that burden and she appreciates being able to lean on her fellow setters, sophomore Amelia Beigel and freshman Ella Koelb, during practices and matches.
“In high school I kind of felt like I was alone, like it was all up to me,” she said. “There was a lot of pressure and I just had to figure it out myself. It’s nice to have other setters who understand what you’re going through and how to go about the game.”
McGrath added, “Being a setter we have a special, unique bond with each other. During our warmups we have this one part where everyone gets off the court and it’s just the setters, all three of us do it for two minutes each and we give feedback the whole time. We’re looking out for each other.”
After a decade of playing volleyball, and despite being only 22, McGrath is feeling the wear and tear of her career and said that this is likely her final season. As she looked ahead to her final college games, McGrath was focused on making the most of the experience, especially pushing to get a win in the NCAA Tournament.
“I love volleyball more than anything,” she said. “I think it’s the best sport to play, the best sport to watch, as much as I’m going to hate life without volleyball and without playing a sport, I definitely think it’s my time to throw in the towel.”
“It made me who I am today,” McGrath said. “I have that sports mentality, the motivation for everything because of sports. I think sports led me to be successful. Even though it’s a lot of time and effort, I think it’s made me a hard-working person and I think I realize what’s most important to me now.”
Endicott will face Salisbury (Md.) in the first round of the NCAA DIII Tournament on Thursday afternoon at Silloway Gymnasium on the campus of Wesleyan University.
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