College volleyball: Elizabeth Hyland's killer instincts has DII Lewis at No. 1 for first time in program history
Lewis volleyball is No. 1 in the land.
RELATED: AVCA DII volleyball rankings
It's a pretty simple statement, but one that has never been made before. Sitting at 17-1 and in first place of the Great Lakes Valley Conference East Division, the Flyers are the No. 1 team in DII volleyball for the first time in program's history.
That may be surprising to a few, but not the Flyers.
"No, our goal is to win the national championship and to do that you have to be ranked one," junior Elizabeth Hyland said. "It's definitely not an end point. It's kind of a cool thing to show our hard work is paying off."
What actually may be more surprising is that the Flyers have never reached the pinnacle of DII volleyball. Since head coach Lorelee Smith took over in in 2007, the Flyers are 296-72, winning four GLVC tournament championships and 10 straight NCAA postseason appearances, with an eleventh seemingly all but certain.
"Playing for Lorelee [Smith] has been an unreal experience," Hyland said. "She has pushed me and made me grow into a player that I never thought I could reach. It's all to her and her coaching philosophy."
Last season, Lewis reached the semifinals for the first time during the Smith era, before being ousted by Concordia-St. Paul 3-0. The same Concordia-St. Paul responsible for the Flyers' lone loss in 2017.
"Eventually we'll have to play them, but right now we're just taking it one step at a time," Hyland said. "It's definitely in the back of our heads that eventually we'll get another shot at them. So right now we're just trying to get to our best so we can give them our best."
Lewis leads the GLVC in six categories, including hitting percentage and blocks. A big part of that is Hyland. The junior outside hitter is one of three Flyers who have started every match this season. She leads the team in a few statistical categories including points and kills. Recently she became the 14th Flyer to enter the 1000 kill club, joining teammate Aly Schneider in the history books.
"I think my freshman year I struggled," Hyland said. "My sophomore year things just started to click. I think my hard work, I'm finally seeing it pay off. I'm a really stubborn person, and when I set a goal I don't stop until I get there.
"I couldn't have done it without the team. At our practices, if you watch, the coaches are all looking out for each other and giving each other feedback. It's not just an accomplishment for me, my team has helped me get there."
While the accomplishments thus far are ones to relish, Lewis is gearing up for a tough final stretch. This weekend is the Midwest Volleyball Crossover Tournament. The Flyers have a tough back-to-back, facing a Findlay team that has been in and out of the Top 25 before a match with No. 13 Ferris State. It doesn't get much easier after that. Lewis still has two matches against East Division rival Bellarmine on the schedule as well as McKendree, the only other remaining undefeated in the GLVC.
"We have this quote that, that there is a target on our backs," Hyland said. "This week we told each other it just got a whole lot bigger. We are focusing on that. Teams are always going to play their best against us. We've already seen it in our conference. Teams take us to four that we didn't think would happen. You have to earn every single win."
Let's step off the court and find out what gives Hyland her killer instincts.
Favortie sports movie: Remember the Titans. I remember watching that when I was really little.
Favorite sports team: I do like the Cubs. I like watching football, but I don't have a favorite team.
Favorite athlete: Kerri Walsh, for sure.
What's in your headphones pregame? Anything rap, that is just really loud. When I'm on the bus is when I listen to the pump up stuff. Before the game, I listen to the more calming stuff.
Pregame meal or snack you must have: Either an apple or a banana.
Superstitions: I try to pray to the Rosary before every game.
What is something your teammates may not know about you? My team literally knows everything about me.
Favorite cartoon growing up: SpongeBob. And I still quote SpongeBob. He's awesome.
Who would play you in a movie about Lewis volleyball? I would want Jennifer Lawrence. I think she's really funny, and seems like a cool person.
Favorite TV show: This is so hard. I like any reality TV show. So the Bravo channel, I like all of those.