Diversity finally reaches MIAC volleyball

Sydnie Zachary
(l-r) Augsburg’s Sydnie Zachary, Cookii Shiongyaj, Corrina Evans Photo by Charles Hallman

Women’s college volleyball, at least in Minnesota, has been historically slow to diversify, especially in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (MIAC). This season, however, we have been pleasantly surprised to find nearly half the conference rosters with at least one Black player.

Whether this counts as a league official record, it should be historically noted that Macalester leads the MIAC with four players of color (POCs) and has the league’s only Black head coach, Sarah Graves. Augsburg boasts three, and Carleton, Hamline, Concordia-Moorhead and St. Mary’s each have one Black player.

More POCs playing across the net this season has not gone unnoticed: “I’ve noticed more” diversity this season, said Augsburg sophomore middle blocker Corrina Evans. Evans on Monday was named MIAC Volleyball Hitter of the Week.

“This year I’ve seen a lot more girls of color in the MIAC,” teammate Sydnie Zachary added. “It’s cool to see.” The junior outside hitter last week was recognized among the league standouts for a two-match total of 20 digs and 18 kills in a pair of league wins.

“Growing up playing, I only had maybe one other girl [of color]” on her team, Zachary recalled. “There’s a little bit more diversity in college.”

Talia Williams, Carleton College Photo by Charles Hallman

Carleton first-year defensive specialist Talia Williams said she originally wasn’t going to play college ball. “I chose Carleton specifically to be a science major and biology major,” she said. “I was visiting, and I spoke with the old coach, and she referred me to Jacki [Smith, the first-year head coach]. We started talking and I ended up on the team. I’m really glad that I did.”

Williams is Carleton’s lone Black player. “I’m really grateful to be able to be a woman of color on my team, and be a good example and leader. I want our program to grow in our diversity,” she said.

“It’s rare to see Asian girls playing volleyball competitively,” Augsburg sophomore Ciashia “Cookii” Shiongyai admitted. She is the only Hmong player on the squad. “We have been working hard all season and jelling as a team.”

Mac Coach Graves said, “It’s wonderful when we see faces [of color] in our sport.”

“I’m a first generation [college student] and from an immigrant family,” Macalester senior Sofi Ascencio, the squad’s only Hispanic player, said proudly. She, senior Gabby Ivy, junior Deborah Pickford and sophomore Abrielle Dillon love that they can play volleyball and be active in other activities as well.

(l-r) Macalester’s Abrielle Dillon, Sofi Ascencio, Gabby Ivy, Coach Sarah Graves, Deborah Pickford (center) MSR News Online

“When you are looking to play sports in college, sometimes you feel like you either are choosing just athletics or just academics, and you can’t do both,”  Ascencio continued. “I chose Mac because I wanted to be able to succeed in both of these routes in my life. This school and the MIAC, in general, are able to provide that for me.”

“What really surprised me was how politically and socially aware and active the [Macalester] community is,” Ivy pointed out.

“I always felt that I had a lot of people [here] concerned about me,” Dillon said. Like Zachary, Dillon’s on-court performance was recognized in the weekly MIAC notebook: She recorded double-digit digs in 15 of 17 matches this season, including a match-high 18 digs against St. Thomas on September 25.

Pickford stressed, “We all have a sense of looking out for each other, because there is not that many of us here.”

So the secret is out — diversity in MIAC volleyball has arrived. Diversity “is something that is necessary to have teams and people who reflect the world, and be leaders,” said Graves.