By Ethan Davis
As the only senior on the 2012 University of Miami women's volleyball team, Illinois native Nrithya Sundararaman does not feel the added pressure that others would assume she should feel. She receives the support that is needed from the rest of her team. As a senior, she believes it is her role "to provide the motivation that is needed" to get the ACC ring which they seek every year.
"At the beginning of the season people were not expecting us to do real well because we lost a lot of great players," Sundararaman said. "To me, this is the last grind, the last chance. It's my last year and putting everything out there is crucial not only for me, but for everyone as well."
One of the reasons for success this season has been the resiliency of the team.
Sundararaman points to the match at Maryland on Oct. 12 as an example of how they were able to "stay focused and keep cool" under pressure. Down 24-23 in the first set and 24-22 in the second, the Hurricanes were able to rally to win both sets by a score of 26-24. They won the third set 25-17 to win the match.
Because of their their ability to "stay focused and keep cool," as Sundararaman describes it, the Hurricanes are 21-4 and 13-2 in the ACC this season. Getting off to a great start is "all about learning from the experiences." Sundararaman points to that same Maryland match as her reason for "always keeping the underdog mentality."
"We came close to letting it bite us in the butt and it should not have been that way if we played at our level," said Sundararaman. "We have to try and stay consistent and get better every day. In the second round of our ACC play, it's going to be a dog-fight every game. We need to keep, as coach Lantagne Welch says, 'a blue collar mentality.' We can't go in thinking we are going to win because of our record."
On Lantagne Welch, Sundararaman says that she a very passionate person and cares very deeply about the program. "When she speaks to us, it can be very inspiring because the program is her baby. She has brought it up from its roots. You can really see that she wants to be here every day and make each of us a better player. Coach can be really motivating and understands what it takes to be successful."
As the starting setter this year, Sundararaman relishes the leadership role associated with her position. "As a setter you are integral part of the team," says Sundararaman. "I love playing that big role as a lot of matches depend on how well you play. If you struggle, your team is going to struggle as well."
Sundararaman has not always had that leadership role as she started her career as a setter, was switched to the hitter's position, and then transitioned backed into the role of setter. "It was really tough. I was not able to really focus on one thing and put all my efforts into it," says Sundararaman on her transition between positions. "It was a lot easier for me in 2011 as I was able to just focus on one thing and get better at what I needed to do."
As she has solidified her position on the team as the primary setter, Sundararaman has slowly climbed her way up the University of Miami's all-time assists list. She recently moved into third with 2,100 as of Nov. 8. "I don't really keep my eye on stats to much but it would be a great honor to be a part of the top of something like this."
In addition to securing her place in Hurricane volleyball history, Sundararaman experienced what she refers to as "the greatest game of her entire career." On Sept. 7, Miami faced, then-No. 6 ranked Florida State at home on ESPNU. The match was the first ever broadcast at the Knight Complex on the ESPN family of networks. After dropping the first set 25-18, the Hurricanes rebounded to win the next three sets by the scores of 25-17, 25-22 and 25-18. This victory was the first win over a top-10 team. "The energy was fantastic. I love the crowd so feeding off of that was great and of course FSU just makes you want to play as hard as you can."
The week prior to the Hurricanes defeat of FSU, Sundararaman and the rest of her teammates traveled to Normal, Ill., to participate in the Redbird Classic. "I really love having them come," said Sundararaman on having her mother, father and brother being there in person to watch her play. "I always know that I have their support. If they are not watching my matches in person, they are watching it on television or online. It is just great to play for them because they have always been there for me throughout my entire career."
Sundararaman has been just as successful in the classroom, maintaining a 3.90 GPA as a neurobiology major to earn Academic All-District honors recently.
"Nrithya certainly is a great representative of student-athletes," head coach Nicole Lantagne Welch said. "She is someone who has done an incredible job to balance the demands of the highest level of Division I volleyball along with all the challenges of being a student here at the University of Miami, which is an extremely competitive academic institution."
She plans to attend medical school after graduation and hopes to become a doctor. With her winning attitude, Sundararaman has a bright future ahead of her.