NORTH ADAMS >> Since volleyball returned to MCLA as a varsity sport in 1998, the Trailblazers have — for the most part — been the proverbial hunters. After last year's best-ever season, now the Trailblazers are a team others want to knock off.
"We have to remember last year," MCLA coach Amanda Beckwith said. "We have to learn from last year too, to exceed last year."
The Trailblazers finished 24-11, cracking the 20-win mark for the first time in program history. MCLA beat Bridgewater State in the MASCAC tournament semifinals, before losing to Framingham State in an attempt to earn a first-ever conference title in the sport. The Trailblazers won their first-ever regular-season title.
MCLA also earned a slot in the ECAC New England Division III tournament, beating Lesley in the semifinals but dropped the championship match to Endicott. It would have been the first-ever tournament championship for the team.
"Our goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament this year," said Beckwith, who has begun her 11th season at the Trailblazer helm. "That means persevering in postseason tournaments, not just in regular season play."
The Trailblazers had a tough opener, losing 3 sets to none at Eastern Connecticut. MCLA plays its first eight matches on the road, which includes a Labor Day weekend tournament at Morrisville (N.Y.) State.
Last year, the Trailblazers started 1-3 but then rattled off 13 consecutive victories. While the season might not have ended the way Beckwith and her players had hoped, the veteran coach said the best season in school history gives them a lot to think about fondly.
"It was the most challenging in all the right ways, and it was nice to see the work of 10 long years of putting this program together, with some really strong recruiting, come to fruition," she said.
"A wise coach once said to me that it takes 10 years to make a program you really want to have. It came true."
Beckwith said that resting on last year's laurels is not where the Trailblazers want to be.
"We have to start pushing them in other ways," she said. "We're not going settle. It's not cool to be second again, to learn from the work they put in the year before and to push themselves and exceed their own expectations."
It all starts with senior Allison Clark, a 5-foot-10 outside hitter from San Jose, Calif. Clark was an All-New England selection. Clark set a school record with 470 kills last year, and she also had 363 digs.
This year's MCLA team has 10 New Yorkers, two from California, three players — including Sam DiCarlo from Pittsfield — from Massachusetts, and two from beyond the 48 contiguous states. Freshman Brooke Oueripel comes to North Adams from Palmer, Alaska, while junior Chanielle Enomoto hails from Wailuku, Hawaii. Enomoto had a team-high 467 digs in 2015.
"I go out to find them. There's a huge tournament that I go to in Las Vegas is one. The price is right for an MCLA student," said Beckwith. "In California, out-of-state tuition is only $4-5 [thousand] more than in-state in California. So it's comparable for them to come here and get an experience like nothing other."
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.