Senior Duo Leading the Way for Bearcat Volleyball Squad

Binghamton Sports Information - Matt Muzza - Nov. 6, 2008

Synopsis: Ashley Allen and Jaclyn Strader are senior co-captains of the Binghamton volleyball team and are set to be honored on Senior Night before Friday's match against UMBC. Each player has left a profound mark on the BU volleyball program and they have the Bearcats poised to make a run in the America East Tournament.

Jaclyn Strader is a four-year starting libero and Binghamton's career leader in digs. Ashley Allen is a three-year starting hitter who ranks in the school's top five in both kills and blocks. Although both players have had statistical success over their four-years at BU, it is their leadership during their final campaign that truly leads the way for the Bearcat volleyball squad.

Freshmen on a Championship Run

In 2005, both Allen and Strader were freshmen who played key roles as the Bearcats made a magical run in winning the America East Championship and advancing to the NCAA Tournament. The Bearcats cruised to a 20-12 overall record while posting a 10-2 America East mark.

Strader was the team's libero and played in every set that season and ranked second on the team in digs. She tallied 11 digs in the teams AE semifinal win over Maine and then 18 digs in the AE Championship win over Stony Brook. Allen played her first collegiate season in the setter position and ranked second on the team in assists.

"Winning the championship was an amazing experience," Allen said. "We know how much fun it was and what a great experience it was and we would really like to have that again."

The following year Allen moved into a starting hitter position and has been locked into that position ever since. Strader remained a mainstay as the team's libero and currently ranks in the top five in career sets played.

Learning Leadership From the Best

Both Allen and Strader credit their teammates from the 2005 championship run as playing critical roles in their development as both players and leaders. Allen specifically gives mention to a former two-time BU captain, Megan Hoag.

"Megan Hoag was one of the best players I've ever played with," Allen said. "Her leadership on and off the court was the best I've seen by far. She led with her words and by example."

Even though Hoag has graduated and left Binghamton, Allen still uses her as a resource in times of need.

"Whenever I have any questions about how I should handle a situation, I call her," Allen said. "She's a person I can talk to about the captain role and she'll always have ideas or suggestions for me."

Hoag played with Allen and Strader during the 2005 and 2006 seasons and was a two-time all-conference selection and graduated in the program's top five in kills, aces, digs, blocks and sets played.

Earning the Captaincy

Over the next few seasons both Allen and Strader improved their play on the court while also honing their leadership skills. The duo were named co-captains going into their senior season after both proved to be worthy candidates. Strader is vocal leader who excels at keeping the team focused on the court.

"Jackie gets everybody working towards the same goal," head coach Glenn Kiriyama said. "She continually reminds her teammates of what our goal is; which is to win each game and make it to the conference tournament and finish as high as we can."

"I try to say some things to the team before the game to keep the team motivated and try to keep everyone in a good mood," Strader said. "It's not very fun to play if the team is down or worried or nervous, so I try to make them smile and then at the same time get them motivated to play."

Strader and Allen both also share an outgoing and friendly style of leadership with their teammates. This has been a key for not only integrating younger players into the program but also maintaining an optimal level of interaction between teammates.

"They have been good at welcoming in the new girls and making them feel part of the team right away," Kiriyama said. "They have also been good at getting people together and just trying to create good team chemistry off the court."

Allen also uses an open-door policy for all players that allows them to seek her help for any issues, whether it is volleyball related or not.

"I really try to make the effort to hang out with the players off the court so they can get to know me not only as a player but also as a person," Allen said. "I really try to make them feel comfortable that they can ask me any questions. If [the younger players] ever need help with anything with school or volleyball, then I am there. I really try to make it known that they can come to me and ask me anything that they need."

But let it not be assumed that Allen has a soft side on the court due to her friendly style of leadership. She plays with a fervent passion on the court rivaled by none and her enthusiasm rubs off onto her teammates. She uses her intensity to keep the squad playing at a high level during each match.

"We enjoyed winning the conference so much [in 2005], so knowing that feeling makes you play with more intensity because you want to get back to that and have that feeling over and over again."

The Final Campaign for the Co-Captains

This year's Bearcat squad looked to be primed for a successful season heading into the semester. The team returned five starters, including two all-rookie selections from the year before. However, the team got off to a slow start and found themselves with a 4-11 record at the conclusion of their preseason non-conference schedule.

The senior duo pointed at both a competitive non-conference slate and the juggling of lineups as a couple of reasons for the early season struggles.

"I think we always had the talent to be good, but the teams that were playing in the preseason, such as Pittsburgh and Virginia, were very highly-skilled," Strader said.

"We were also trying to find a lineup that worked [in our preseason]," Allen added. "We were all playing different positions and at that point we didn't know if the conference tournament would be an option for us."

The captains did not let the squad lose hope from the slow start and promptly led their team to a huge turnaround and a quick 4-0 conference start. Allen references the eventual shaping out of the lineup as being a factor to their new-found success.

"It really helped when we got our lineup set," Allen said. "I think that's really when you saw the change of when we started winning. That's when we had some consistency on the court and everyone settled into their roles."

The captains also stated that the tough competition they faced early on in the year helped them peak at the right time in order to excel against their conference foes.

Ever since conference play began, the Bearcats have been virtually unstoppable. The team has won nine of their last 10 matches overall and currently has a strong grasp on second place with first place within their sights.

The Bearcats have also already clinched their fifth consecutive postseason berth with four conference games remaining. The Bearcats seem poised to make a solid run in the America East Tournament and will attempt to ensure that this will be a season to remember for their two departing senior captains.

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