Kailey Gallagher goes up for a spike against Kean University in an NJAC matchup on Tuesday, October 2, 2018 - Multimedia Editor / Dyone Payne

The new school year is upon us, which means the start of fall sports. And one team is really poised for a standout season.

The women’s volleyball team is off to a blistering 5-2 start after losing in the semi-finals of the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) tournament last season. The team, same as last year, came into this season labeled as the “dark horse” to win the conference according to the 2019 NJAC Coaches Preseason Women’s Volleyball Poll.

The team enjoys having this label on them. They went 6-2 in the NJAC last year, finishing second in the conference. They know what it means to be a dark horse so they go into the season with a similar mindset to last year’s.

“It’s a very awesome feeling,” senior Kailey Gallagher, one of the team captains and opposite hitters, said. “It means that everyone knows we’re talented, and we all know we’re talented. We know it, but we haven’t fully emerged from it so it an awesome feeling knowing that we can do more than we even know we can do.”

This mindset helps the team believe they can do anything, and they think they have the talent to win against any team.

“Any game we play in, we know we can do anything,” Gallagher said. “Any team we play, we can beat them because we know we have more talent, more potential to show.”

This sentiment perhaps echoes from the coaching staff who also believe being the dark horse is good for the team.

“I like being the dark horse,” head coach Deana Jespersen said. “It’s nice to know you have the respect of the conference in that they know you have talent, but we haven’t proven ourselves to be at the top two yet. But by calling us the dark horse it means they know we’re capable of it and will reach that potential. It’s like an underdog to me, but with a little respect to it. They need to respect us, they need to take us seriously, because at some point, it’s all gonna fall together for us.”

Being taken seriously is what this team wants and their strong start suggests they deserve it. So far they’ve taken down the likes of Widener and Penn State Berks.

“I think this is one of our best openings,” Gallagher said. “I think we played a lot of competitive teams these past two weekends, this is really fun because we showed how much we can play. I feel like everything’s coming together, our defense, our offense, our setting, there’s just nothing to complain about. I can’t even tell you what’s been good or bad, because everything’s just been together.”

Jespersen feels the same way about their hot start, however she says it’s just the beginning.

“The 5-2 start is a great start for us,” Jespersen said. “We had strong competition both weekends [so far]. We knew that we could win or lose to any of the teams we faced, so it wasn’t like we walked into the weekend thinking we were gonna roll over anybody. We had to earn those wins, so that’s promising. We’re gonna be facing four tough teams this coming weekend, so that’ll challenge us once again and then the NJAC starts the following weekend. So I think we’ve had enough [game action] to figure out where we need to get to and what our areas of strength are and our areas where we need to improve.”

Jespersen says there’s no difference leading a squad that’s considered a dark horse. The team doesn’t need to be coached any differently.

“Whether or not they called us a dark or horse or ranked us ninth, they just want to win,” Jespersen said. “I don’t think I have to harp on them to want that. That’s something that is already internal for them, and that’s how it was when I was recruiting them. I was looking for people who wanted to win.”

The Profs have a goal, and they believe they can compete and reach that goal with the team they have. The “dark horse” label helps them stay motivated throughout the season.

The Profs are back in action Friday, Sept. 19 against Swarthmore College during the Swarthmore College Quad in Swarthmore, PA.

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