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Before they actually get to the big games, the IPFW women's volleyball players have to play the little games.
Whenever the Volleydons climb onto the bus for a road trip, new Coach Steve Florio brings along two bags of dice, card and electronic games. Everyone, all 16 to 20 people on the trip, is required to play.
"Nowadays, kids put their ear buds in and watch things on their iphones and we're just a bunch of individuals on a bus," Florio said. "When we get together and play a game, we're a group. They are a bunch of competitive kids, and it's a good way to kill some time."
It's also a great way to get to know one another, new freshmen and veteran seniors alike. It builds camaraderie.
"It's so hard these days to get everybody together if we're not practicing or competing," Florio said. "We're on this bus and it's a captive audience, so why not have some fun? I think people get to see people in different ways because it's an even playing field at that point."
The Volleydons open their season this weekend at Western Michigan's Bronco Classic, so they'll have at least a couple hours of ride time. Then they get to show what they can do.
After going 18-14 last season in Kelley Hartley Hutton's last year before becoming athletic director, the Volleydons return six starters for Florio who takes over after being the lead assistant for 11 years. Seniors Hallie Ripley and Emily Spencer were all-Summit League players a year ago. Seniors Madison Spence and Kendall Wienkes also return along with junior Sarah Heckman and sophomore Summer Johnson.
IPFW's first home match is Sept. 17 against Ball State. The Summit League coaches predicted the Volleydons would finish second in the conference standings behind Denver.
"We are senior heavy, but they are really great leaders and team members," Florio said. "As a team with chemistry, they are doing a great job of taking this culture we have and teaching it to the younger players. I think our younger players have bought into whatever our seniors want to do."
IPFW's first 10 matches and 15 of the first 16 will be played away from the Gates Sports Center. Ten of the final 16 regular-season matches will be played at home.
Until then, it's time to start the games.