Women's Volleyball

The Secret to the Women’s Volleyball Team’s MVC Success? Improving their Mental Game

Wes Kinard | The PhoenixThe Loyola women's volleyball team finished its 2021 season at 2nd place in the MVC.

Holding the top spot in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) with a 12-2 conference record, the Loyola women’s volleyball team has seen great success in conference play this year. Compared to its 8-8 conference record last season, the team has largely outperformed themselves. 

Outside hitter Emily Banitt, 19, and setter Jenna Appel, 20 — both sophomores on the team — said they have seen the team make changes from last season to become more confident. 

“It’s been a lot of fun to walk out on the court and have that swag,” Banitt said “We’re at the top of the conference. Coming in with that confidence, that we work hard every day in the gym for.” 

One difference between last season and this season is the introduction of mental performance training through an app called Vision Pursue. The app — introduced by the men’s basketball team — offers different levels of performance mindset training which focus on ways to process emotions. 

According to Vision Pursue, performance mindset training is used to train automatic thought and emotional patterns to improve performance, resilience, and engagement.

“An untrained mind automatically produces emotions that leave people feeling anxious or stressed, something that athletes can experience during games or practice,” the website said. 

The app was introduced to give the players a way to handle those emotions and better understand how to handle them, according to women’s volleyball head coach Amanda Berkley. 

Berkley said she saw the app’s success with the men’s basketball team and decided to have her team try it too. According to Banitt and Appel, the app has improved their mental performance. 

Berkley said one problem she noticed last season was the team’s lack of focus, and said she thinks that the app is helping in that regard. 

“[Learning] how to manage our emotions while we’re playing and understand that it’s okay to still have emotions and you can still play regardless of how you’re feeling,” she said of the players’ mental game. 

Coming back from the MVC championship loss last season against Illinois State University and an 8-8 Valley record, Banitt said the team had something to prove this season. The players have been focused on working on embracing emotions, which is something the team struggled with in past seasons, she said. 

Appel said the daily mental health practices have helped her with her confidence, and to move on from mistakes instead of fixating on them. 

Banitt said the team has been able to better prepare for games as their mental focus has improved. 

Last year it was difficult for the team to bond due to COVID-19, and Berkley said she saw the result of that in last season’s final record and the loss in the MVC championship. 

This year, the players have had more opportunities for team bonding, which has helped improve their chemistry, Appel said. Banitt said other teams can see how well they gel on the court, which goes beyond their physicality and leans more into their mental game.

Appel and Banitt said the Ramblers’ success is also credited to the team chemistry, something Berkley agrees with. 

“This year we’ve really tried to mesh this team well and try to work on that team bonding,” Berkley said. “I think that’s really helped. This team likes each other, they’re having fun, and so it’s fun to be around them.” 

Though the dynamics have changed for the team, its preparation for games hasn’t. Before each game, Banitt said the team gathers to watch film and have a meal to prepare together and see what it’ll need to work on in practice. 

Berkley said the preparation for conference games doesn’t differ from non-conference games. 

“It’s kind of interesting to see what changes, what doesn’t change, how we can find a way to beat them,” she said about playing teams in the MVC. “Every match matters during non-conference, but we’re still learning how to play together, so the conference season we should have everything kind of figured out and trying to find wins.” 

Appel and Banitt agree they don’t see much of a difference in the conference versus non-conference games, and Appel said they treat every team the same in terms of preparation. She said playing is a little different, because they have a past with the conference teams and they have more of a fire during those matches.

With only five games left of its regular season and a look to the MVC championship, Berkley said she is excited to keep watching her team finish out the season. 

“We’ve got a talented group,” she said. “It’s fun to see them have success…it’s pretty cool.” 

The Ramblers face Bradley University on Nov. 12 in their second-to-last home game of the season. The match is set to begin at 6 p.m. and the broadcast information has yet to be announced.

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