Prior to the Eastern Michigan volleyball team’s final road trip of the regular season, I spoke with the team’s three seniors – Natalie Folk, Megan Crawshaw and Jill Briner – about their time at the university and what they will take with them after they graduate.
Briner – who transferred to Eastern two years ago from Northeastern University – said she felt at home here despite growing up in Oak Park, Ill. which is about 20 minutes west of Chicago.
“Even though there are only a few girls who are local, the parents and fans do a good job making you feel local,” she said.
It only takes one, or two, or three
The Eagles have played in 129 matches (and counting) since the seniors arrived as freshmen in 2011. Folk, Crawshaw and Briner picked three matches that they said made the biggest impact on them in their time at EMU.
Briner’s match – a five set win over Bowling Green on Oct. 18, 2013.
“We came in – we had a tough loss the night before and other tragic things happened in the athletic department – and it was one of those games that they were second in the conference at the time,” she said. “They came in and barely did a warm up. They came in cocky. The first set was 25-9. We shut them down. We shut their crowd out. It was nice to finally kick somebody and play the way we can. We struggled to that point during the season.”
Folk said that match was the turning point for their season – helping propel the Eagles into the playoffs and on to the MAC championship.
“We kind of were on fire,” she said.
The Eagles lost to Ohio University in straight sets.
Crawshaw mentioned two key matches earlier this season – a home match against Central Michigan on Oct. 30 and the Senior Night match against Ball State University on Nov. 8. Both matches were five set wins.
“Central was a big game – especially more emotional,” Briner said. “They’re a big rival – they play emotionally and you get really emotional playing them. Ball State was good. We played five games – getting better and better each game. It was really fun to be able to change the momentum throughout the match.”
Folk said those were important matches because Eastern had lost matches to both teams on the road earlier in the season.
“Central – they’ve always been our rivals,” she said. “But we played them at their place first and played horrible. We didn’t show up.”
In the classroom
Folk said Professor Kathryn Schulte from the Special Education department was the instructor she learned the most from.
“The professor that has impacted me the most in the last four years was Pamela Landau from the Psychology Department,” Crawshaw said. “I had Psychology of Sex with her at 8 a.m. every Tuesday and Thursday. She just made it really fun and I actually never wanted to miss a class. I was always at every single class.”
Briner said her favorite professor taught her more than just what was covered in class.
“One professor I think taught me more than accounting was Professor [Daniel] Brickner,” she said. “He taught you how to learn to study for accounting. He taught you that you can’t just memorize it. You need to understand it as a system. He’s amazing and I go back to him and email him all the time about different stuff…he just wants you to truly succeed.”
Advice for the next generation
All three seniors agreed that the four years seemed to go by quickly.
“Get those A’s while you’re still in your [prerequisites],” Crawshaw said. “They help towards your GPA.”
Folk said utilizing study tables helped manage playing a sport and focusing on academics.
She and Briner both said it was important to learn from upper classmen in their early college days.
“I think the first thing you need to accept coming in as a student-athlete is that you are not a normal student,” Briner said. “Any time you try to be one will hurt your athletic and classroom [life]. You have to have priorities. The fun will come after that and with that and during that. I think that people who come in and try to do what their friends do who aren’t student-athletes – they have time. You don’t.”
She said once she got to her sophomore year she realized that and found different ways to have fun.
“This is our sorority,” Folk said.
Briner mentioned Mallory Rajewski and Alyssa Davis as players to watch. Folk said Jaclyn Ruffalo would be another Eagle with a bright future.
Crawshaw mentioned another player who she thought would make an impact next season.
“I think Katie Krasowski is definitely going to have a huge role next year,” she said. “She already has a huge role this year as it is being the other middle [blocker] but she’s going to have a huge role next year hitting and attacking.”
Folk also said Corynne Smith – who will be a senior next year – as being another key to the EMU defense.
Smith had good things to say about the seniors as well.
“They’ve done so much for our program,” she said. “They’ve all contributed in so many ways on and off the court. Natalie has been my weight lifting partner, she’s been my buddy on defense the whole time I’ve been here. I just look up to her so much. Meg and Jill – on the court and off the court – are just such great people and we’re just going to miss them so much.”
Another teammate - junior Dori Harrison - said she looks to the three seniors as family.
"They're all good-hearted, they're all people I know I can talk to through the good times [and] the bad times," she said. "I've only known them for two years now and I see them as sisters."
Briner is confident in the team’s success moving forward.
“I think the team is in good hands,” Briner said. “I think they are going to walk into an offense that’s pretty well established.”
The Eagles finished the regular season with an 18-12 record (9-7 in the MAC) after splitting the last two matches on the road – a straight set loss at Western Michigan Friday and a five set victory over Northern Illinois Saturday night.
Playoff seeding has yet to be announced.
Follow Al Willman on Twitter: @AlWillmanEcho