In the midst of a historic season that includes a single-season record for consecutive wins and only the program’s second trip to the NCAA Division I tournament, the Towson volleyball team continues to be one of the better-kept secrets — even on campus.
“A lot of people at school, even though they go to Towson, they’re like, ‘Oh, we’re good this year?’” an incredulous Camryn Allen said with a quick shake of her head.
Added Olivia Finckel: “It’s like, ‘What are you guys watching? What are you paying attention to?’”
The frustration, although genuine, dissipated quickly. After all, Finckel and Allen have more pressing priorities as the Tigers (28-2) prepare to meet American University (24-7) in a first-round match Friday at 5:30 p.m. in University Park, Pennsylvania. The winner will advance to Saturday’s second-round clash at 6:30 p.m. with either No. 11 seed and host Penn State (24-5) or Princeton (17-7).
Finckel, a 6-foot-2 senior outside hitter who grew up in Baltimore and graduated from Dulaney, and Allen, a 5-7 junior defensive specialist who grew up in Ellicott City and graduated from Centennial, are two of several Maryland products who elected to stay close to home for college. There’s 5-2 senior defensive specialist Catie Chervenak (Hammond), 5-3 sophomore defensive specialist Alexa Welch (Mount Hebron), 5-10 redshirt sophomore middle blocker Nikiya Mitchell (Lackey in Charles County), 5-10 sophomore outside hitter Gianna Carmona (Holy Cross in Montgomery County) and 5-8 freshman setter Katie McCracken (Smithsburg in Washington County).
Tigers coach Don Metil said players such as Finckel and Allen are critical to the program.
“They provide guidance on the court, but they provide so many other things because they’re local,” he said as the team gathered in the Minnegan Room to watch the NCAA selection show Sunday night. “It makes nights like tonight special because all of their family and friends are here. It’s just little things like that, little things that maybe people take for granted that make these opportunities special.”
Finckel and Allen took different roads to becoming every-match players at Towson. While Allen chose the Tigers over Colonial Athletic Association rivals James Madison and Elon while attending Centennial, Finckel elected to play at Palm Beach Atlantic, a Division II school in West Palm Beach, Florida.
After a freshman campaign in which she finished fourth on the Sailfish in kills with 257 and added 83 blocks and helped the team advance to the final four, Finckel began to consider transferring.
“It kind of just dawned on me that if this is my freshman year and I’m already at this level in my freshman year dong well, then I can’t imagine what I could do at a higher level, the potential I could have if I was around players that were stronger than the girls I was with,” she recalled. “It was really just the best opportunity for me.”
A starter over the last two seasons, Finckel is one of three Towson players with at least 200 kills and 100 blocks this fall, and she was named to the CAA’s first team. The numbers and accolades though seemed unreachable during the team’s first six matches of its conference schedule when she failed to reach double digits in kills and compiled just 21 blocks.
“It was pretty bad,” Finckel said of what she called “a rough patch.” “It was really a mental block. I almost felt like I was hitting into the blocks all the time and just making poor errors, unforced errors. So it was really a mental thing I had to get around, but you could see it in my play, I think.”
Metil said he and assistants Terry Hutchinson and Megan Shifflett Bachmann studied film and noticed that Finckel struggled in transitioning from attempting a block to getting ready to spike the ball.
“She worked on those things, and I think showing her those things in a video session and then being able to go out and work on them in the [gym] helped her get through that mental block,” he said. “She technically didn’t know what she was doing, and that’s where we as a staff needed to intervene and kind of show her.”
In her first season as a full-time player, Allen leads the team in digs with 394 and service aces with 37 and ranks second in assists with 74. She admitted that being able to make a difference has helped mitigate her first two years when she backed up Anna Holehouse.
“I had to work through a lot,” she said. “I was really in my head because I had gone from playing and starting every game in high school and club to not playing, and it was kind of eye-opening. I just had to sit there and grind it out every day. Especially in the spring, reality set in because I had the chance to start, and I just really had to buckle down and figure it out. … Once I realized that I don’t have to be perfect and that I just had to get the job done, it was OK. So it was really rewarding to be a part of it, actually contributing.”
Metil, who argued that Allen had the credentials this fall to be the league’s Defensive Player of the Year, said talent was never an issue with her.
“It was nothing more than her building confidence,” he said. “She’s a perfectionist and when things don’t go her way, she struggles, and that’s one of the things we talked to her about. You don’t need to be perfect to get the job done.”
Finckel is one of five seniors and four starters who will have exhausted their eligibility after this season. But Allen said she hopes the Tigers’ success will convince more area high school players to stay local.
“There are a lot of talented girls in this area, and they feel like they have to go to schools like Texas or Florida,” she said. “So I think if they have a chance to stay home near their families, Towson would be a better option for them.”
Both Finckel and Allen agreed that simply qualifying for the NCAA tournament is not the objective this weekend. Whatever happens, Finckel said she is happy to contribute to the program.
“Putting Towson on the radar would be really rewarding just knowing that we had a part in that and getting people to come here,” she said. “A lot of people don’t think of Towson as a great school in Maryland, but I think we can change that perspective.”