Being ranked No. 1 in the nation during the regular season is nice, but the Rochester Community and Technical College volleyball team has loftier goals.
RCTC achieved the top ranking among Division III junior college teams this week. The Yellowjackets are off to a perfect 13-0 start and have gone 39-3 in sets in those matches.
"It's not a goal of ours to be nationally ranked No. 1," RCTC coach Amber Zitzow said. "It's exciting for our school, our fans, but as our team it's not a big deal."
The Yellowjackets have a veteran squad back from a team that placed third at the NJCAA National Tournament a year ago. Being No. 1 at the end of the season is more important to the Yellowjackets.
"We're not looking too far ahead to regionals or nationals, we're just trying to take it one game at a time," Brekkin McCready said. "Ranked first in the nation, it's a good accomplishment, but we're not worried about that."
McCready, the team's setter, is one of five sophomores playing a huge role on the team. The others are middle blocker AnnMarie Jalmasco, libero Kate Bade, outside hitter Carrie Rutledge and transfer middle blocker Hayley Dessner. All four are from the area. McCready is a St. Charles grad, Rutledge is from Hayfield, Bade and Dessner are both Plainview-Elgin-Millville grads and Jalmasco is a Schaeffer Academy grad.
"That helps a lot that we're all used to playing with each other last year," McCready said. "And the new freshmen coming in, we're trying to be role models for them."
The players are also close, on and off the court.
"We have a lot of team bonding," Bade said. "A lot of us girls watch 'Bachelor in Paradise' together every Monday and Tuesday night, so that's something we do together."
The players also get together to watch movies or hang out around campus and study.
"It's just easy to get along with everyone," said Rutledge, who was an All-American last year and leads the team with 5.14 kills per set this year. She was recently named the NJCAA D-III National Player of the Week.
On the court, the RCTC players bring a vast skill level.
"I think everyone brings their own unique skill to the team," Rutledge said. "And I think that's why we all compete so well together because everyone can get a kill, everyone can dig a ball out."
STRONG TEAM CHEMISTRY
Zitzow also said the players are very good at playing "out-of-system," meaning they can adapt on offense when the ball isn't passed correctly to the setter.
"Our defense is great and our out-of-system, too," Bade said. "And we have trust in each other and that goes a long ways."
"We have people knowing what to do in every position in case someone gets hurt or taken out someone else can fill that spot," McCready said.
Zitzow is not surprised by RCTC's stellar start, given the level of players back and the strong team unity.
"The key has been our team chemistry," the coach said. "From Day One, it's been huge. The leadership from our returning sophomores has been huge and the freshmen have bought in. And they can take constructive criticism from each other."
The Yellowjackets would like to maintain their perfect record, but that's not the end goal for the season.
"It is pressure knowing that other teams what to beat us, knowing that we haven't lost a game," McCready said. "So we just need to play how we play."
The players acknowledge that the key the rest of the way will be to limit distractions and kept to the task at hand.
"Just kind of taking it one game at a time, don't look past anything," McCready added. "Just focus on the game coming up and put in all our effort at practice."
The Yellowjackets still have about 20 matches left in the regular season before postseason play.
"Our main goal is to get to nationals again, but we take it one game at a time," Bade said. "I think that we all have the same goal, it's pushing us even closer together. We all want the same things."