The Berry College volleyball team has garnered plenty of attention over the last few seasons and it’s willing to go the distance to show just how competitive they are on the court.
The No. 9 Vikings hosted the Berry National Invitational at the Cage Center on Friday and Saturday, coming away with wins against a pair of top-25 teams while nearly knocking off the top-ranked Division III team in the nation.
“We scheduled in a way where we wanted to be challenged early in the season,” head coach Caitlyn Moriarty said Saturday after nearly pulling off a reverse sweep of reigning D-III national champion Emory.
“I’m really proud of the growth that’s happened in the last two weeks. It’s been a long two days in this tournament, and to go 3-1 is something I’m really proud of. Our team is really hungry to get better and to continue to learn.”
The Vikings (6-1) opened play Friday with wins against No. 15 Mary Hardin-Baylor (3-2) and No. 22 Christopher Newport (3-1), and knocked off Endicott 3-1 on Saturday before capping the two-day event with a 3-2 loss to No. 1 Emory.
After losing the first two sets to the Eagles 25-23, 25-22, Berry bounced back to even the match at two sets apiece with scores of 27-25, 25-21. In the third and decisive set, the Vikings were up 13-8 before giving up seven straight points as the Eagles crept back for the 15-13 win.
The Vikings defeated Emory last year 3-1 in the regular season, but were defeated by the Eagles in the regional finals in 2017. Berry won the Southern Athletic Association championship in both seasons.
The Vikings also got some revenge against Mary Hardin-Baylor, which ended Berry’s season last year in the regional semifinals.
Moriarty said the early challenge in the season helps the Vikings get ready for competition they’ll face later in the season. The Vikings dive into conference play Sept. 18 at home against Oglethorpe.
“The SAA is a really strong volleyball conference, and scheduling this way allows us to work on things that we need to work on in order to prepare really well for SAA and make the NCAA tournament,” Moriarty said.
Berry middle blocker Carson VanCampen, who had 19 kills against the Eagles, said the teams they faced this weekend showed the players what they need to focus on to be successful later in the season.
“Being able to be at home so early in the season was really exciting, because we have our beds and we have our food, all our parents came, and we had all of our friends and fans,” VanCampen said. “We played some really, really dope, hard teams that definitely challenged us in different ways, which was really exciting because we grew in each little aspect of volleyball. As teammates and players, we really grew together with each challenge.”
Moriarty said the loss to Emory will only encourage her players to perfect their craft as the season presses on.
“Our team is a big believer in resiliency and that we can always get the outcome that we want, but more importantly, focusing on the little things that lead to that outcome that we want,” Moriarty said. “Emory is a program we respect, and obviously they’re the No. 1 team in Division III, so to get to play them at home is the best way you can play them. I think we’re going to have a lot of takeaways from this match and get back in the gym and try to get a little bit better.”
The Vikings will continue to be challenged in the upcoming days when they head to Springfield, Ohio, for the Wittenberg Fall Classic. The Vikings will face Heidelberg on Friday then fifth-ranked Wittenberg and Ohio Northern on Saturday.
“We’ve got another big, important weekend coming up,” Moriarty said. “We’ve got the mindset that we’re going to keep climbing, little by little, and we want to peak in November.”