A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the Loyola women’s volleyball team’s record was 5-26 last season. The story has been updated to reflect the error.
First-year defensive specialist Lauren Caprini was on Loyola women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Berkley’s recruiting radar since she was head coach at University of Southern Mississippi. Berkley recognized Loyola needed a defensive specialist, so she turned to Caprini.
Caprini, a native of western suburb St. Charles, accepted an offer from Berkley to join the team as a walk-on April 24, making her the first recruit of the Berkley era at Loyola. There wasn’t a scholarship available for Berkley to give to Caprini; nonetheless Caprini’s impact has been felt.
Through 12 non-conference games, Caprini leads the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) with 21 service aces and has recorded 104 digs, which is when a player saves a ball from hitting the ground — the second most on the team. Berkley said she didn’t expect Caprini to play this big a role so early.
“I hadn’t realized that she was going to get this much time and have this much of an impact with her serve as well,” Berkley said. “It’s been a nice surprise.”
Caprini, a marketing major at Loyola, said her game was “quick” and “scrappy,” while Berkley described her as “tenacious.” Coming off the bench, Caprini said she tries to change the dynamic of the match with her energy and ability to chase balls down.
“I think when we’re down, having some of those hustle plays really helps to turn the energy a bit,” Caprini said.
Caprini has provided a defensive spark in several wins this season. The Ramblers have won all four times Caprini has gone for double-digit digs. In a 3-0 sweep against Marshall University Sept. 1, she posted a season-high 16 digs.
Caprini’s early play has also impressed her teammates. Senior libero Alex Nunez said Caprini’s mindset allows her to be a factor.
“On the court, she’s just jumped in,” Nunez said. “She doesn’t care that she’s a [first-year]. She’s playing a lot and she’s been playing well.”
Caprini is the only new player on a roster which returned every member from last season. She said being the only fresh face made her nervous at first, but those nerves have quickly subsided.
“Obviously, having played together, they already have their inside jokes and they all know each other, so I was extremely nervous coming in,” Caprini said. “But they’ve been so welcoming and it doesn’t even feel like I’m the only [first-year].”
Caprini has spent time with every teammate, but she said fellow defensive specialists Nunez and senior Maddy Moser have been her biggest mentors. Caprini said her teammates have welcomed her almost like a “younger sister.”
While the team has emphasized being welcoming of their new teammate, Nunez said Caprini’s personality has made the bond strong.
“As a team, we’ve been doing really well welcoming her to this team and she’s done a good job of making friends with everyone,” Nunez said. “It’s been like a two-way street that’s been working.”
The positive environment Caprini has felt is largely a product of the new coaching staff under Berkley. Berkley said her primary mission when she arrived at Loyola was to create a more positive atmosphere.
Caprini said she didn’t know about the team’s dismal record last season after she accepted her spot on the team. Loyola went 5-24 last season; so far this year, the Ramblers are 8-4 heading into the conference schedule.
After hearing about where the team has come from, she said she’s excited to help with the resurgence.
“It’s been really cool just to be able to come in with the new coaching staff because, obviously, that’s what the difference is,” Caprini said. “It’s been cool to be able to be a part of it.”
Caprini and the Ramblers are scheduled be in action Sept. 21 when they open up conference play at the University of Evansville.