Psyching Up The Team
When a team finishes a season with the most wins in program history and returns the next year, having graduated just one player, struggling to start the upcoming year would be the last thing on a coach’s mind. But that’s exactly how the 2009 women’s volleyball season started.
The Susquehanna women faced two nationally ranked top-20 teams in the beginning of the year and found themselves with a 0–5 start to their campaign. The team needed a turnaround. But where would it come from, and who would spark it? In stepped Kathy Owens, executive assistant to the president. As a sports psychologist, Owens is a rarity in NCAA Division III college athletics.
Pulling her away from her duties with the president would be tough, but in 2008, head coach John “Kuuipo” Tom decided to approach Owens anyway. He had seen the positive effects a sports psychologist can have on a team, and he knew his team could use the support. With a big roster and a number of talented freshmen, Tom needed Owens to bridge the gap between the veterans and the new faces and bring a new perspective to the team.
Owens gets her own time with the team when she can talk with them individually or as a group. She also spends time learning the game of volleyball and talking casually with the players to strengthen the bond between her and the team.
Owens’ involvement helped the team’s turnaround, as the Crusaders, then at 2–8, won 15 of their next 16 matches, including winning streaks of six and nine matches. “Her words were a big part of the focus and mentality that got us back on track,” says senior co-captain Jessica Cicioni. “Dr. Owens’ words help us to focus more on our individual games, combining our skills together to benefit our team and to successfully execute a game plan.”
Despite the praise, Owens takes no credit for the team’s performance. She simply hopes the players learn from what she tells them and that “their individual competitiveness and team cohesion can come together.”
So far that seems to be the case, and Coach Tom says he feels the same way.
Says Tom, “I can name so many instances where having Dr. Owens on board was quite possibly the single most important team member move I’ve ever made.”
Contributing writers to Scoreboard are Robert Edward Healy III, Kelly Stemcosky ’11 and Justin Lutes.