Exhausted and relieved, the players gather together for one final meeting on the far side of the court.

As the crowd eagerly watches and the pep band roars with the sounds of the alma mater, the women’s volleyball team extends their hands to the center.

Sure, any team on campus probably holds this typical post-game exercise, but it’s what comes after that really tells the story.

They raise their hands, turn to the stands and yell, ‘Thank you!’

Moments later, the players scurry to different ends of the court and do something unseen to the casual observer and something most would consider ridiculous for a Division-I athlete to do: they clean up their very own equipment.

Somehow, in spite of all of their achievements and regular season successes, the Stags still have the humility absent even among most Little League teams in today’s world.

The volleyball team’s customary salute to the pep band and their spin on post-game exterior designing may be the most fitting stories to explain why the team deserves our respect, but it would be remiss to not add that, despite a rookie head coach and a roster that lost eight players from a season ago, this team has earned it.

With five consecutive losses in the MAAC conference championship game and a head coach that left town at the drop of a phone call serving as a prelude, the season began with a 2-9 record.

In their out-of-conference schedule, the Stags struggled against premier opponents Seton Hall, Temple and Connecticut, most of which play in renowned conferences.

As if the opponents themselves were not enough, the team had to cope with a rigorous travel schedule that had the Stags criss-crossing the Northeast during the first days of the Alija Pittenger era.

The out-of-conference schedule took the team from Long Island to Philadelphia to Northern Illinois in a matter of thirteen days.

Still, as soon as the calendar turned from September to October and the schedule shifted to MAAC games, the Stags managed to eschew talk of pressure and maintain their poise.

Six consecutive conference wins later, the Stags now have the look of a contender with an eye on turning resiliency into redemption.

Regardless of the outcome of this Saturday’s match against Siena, the same team that crushed the Stags chance to clinch an NCAA tournament on their own home court only a few months ago, the Stags early season MAAC performance this year has shown the conference much more than just their obvious talent.

It has shown their heart.

And if heart counts for anything, then 2008 may finally be the feel good ending that volleyball deserves.

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