Merrimack senior Jackie Jones, the lone senior on the volleyball team, has sights set on the start of NE-10 play next week.
NORTH ANDOVER — They say everything’s bigger in Texas. That’s not just true about the steaks and cowboy hats, the volleyball players are a different breed, as Merrimack College learned on an early-season trip to the Lone Star State.
The Warriors traveled to the Hilltopper-Rattler Classic in Austin, Tex. to start their season last month, returning to North Andover with four shutout losses on their record. However the trip wasn’t about getting an immediate return, rather, it was an investment in what the Warriors hope is a season that stretches deep into the tournament.
Since returning home, Merrimack has won four of its last six matches and kicks off conference play next week when the Warriors host Southern Connecticut State (Oct. 5, 1 p.m.).
“The level of play (in Texas) is much, much different,” said senior outside hitter Jackie Jones. “Up here the game is a little slower, but we went down there and played fast and we’ve kept our offense just as fast after we’ve come back, which is helping us stay a step above. The players down there are larger, they hit harder, they jump higher, and they’re a lot faster. It’s a really powerful league. We know that no one up here will be hitting at the same speed, so we can handle anything thrown at us.”
Conference play begins a new season for the Warriors, one in which the goal is perfection.
“We want to go undefeated in our conference games,” Jones said. “That’s the goal everyone is focusing on right now.”
Jones, who is from Amherst, New Hampshire, is the lone senior on the team, transferring from Wheaton College in Norton after her freshman season and becoming a one-person class.
“It doesn’t feel like I’m the only senior,” she said. “I feel like I’m a part of the junior class, because I came in with them, but I just have one less year I can play.”
While looking at colleges she did consider Merrimack before deciding on Wheaton. After a year she chose to transfer and picked the Warriors, where the fit couldn’t have been better.
“I wasn’t sure what I wanted so I went the Division 3 route at first,” she said. “But I wanted more competition.”
One of the first things she noticed was the added bonus of a structured strength and conditioning program, run at Merrimack by seventh-year coach Mike Kamal.
“Even at Wheaton we lifted on our own and had no help,” she said. “We didn’t train properly. I’ve definitely noticed that being on the program he has for us has changed the way I play, my back support is a lot better. Coach Kamal is one of the best around. He takes a lot of personal interest in the athletes and he has made me a completely different athlete and it has helped change the way I play.”
Jones time at Merrimack has coincided with vast improvements throughout the athletic department. Volleyball’s match last Tuesday against St. Anselm — a 3-1 win for the Warriors — was the first event to take place on Hammel Court since the floor was replaced over the summer and the gym received a face lift.
“Everything about Merrimack is great,” she said. “(Last Tuesday) was a special night, and the atmosphere was awesome. The first thing I noticed when I got here was how at home I felt right away. The staff is incredible, just everything about Merrimack is great.”
The Warriors are a fairly young bunch, with eight of the 15 players on the roster underclassmen, including five freshmen. With three freshmen regularly in the rotation, the Warriors have spent portions of the early-season schedule simply finding some chemistry. In recent weeks, Jones says things are starting to click.
“It does take some time but you can notice the improvements,” she said. “There are times where we have there freshmen on the court, so with new players we needed to learn each other’s movements but we’re clicking well now. We’re progressing. ”
Before opening the conference schedule with SCSU, the Warriors will also host Assumption on Tuesday (Oct. 1) at 7 p.m. inside Hammel Court.