Andover Girls Volleyball Co-Captain Chioma Ugwonali ’20 began playing volleyball at her local YMCA in the seventh grade and quickly developed a passion for the sport.
“I started in the 7th grade, and I was a swimmer before I played volleyball, but I was so sick of going to practices that I would make excuses, so I wanted to do something else. My mother suggested I try volleyball at the YMCA. I did, and then after a year of swimming and playing volleyball, I decided to completely switch over to volleyball. That was a great decision because I actually loved the sport,” said Ugwonali.
As Co-Captain this year, Ugwonali hopes to model her previous captain, Serena Liu ’19, who Ugwonali had played alongside for three full seasons.
“[Liu] was such an influence to me and has been for every year at this school because she personifies a leader and empathy, balance, and inclusion, which I feel we should bring to each aspect of our life here at Andover,” said Ugwonali, “…so I try to inspire ‘Sliu’ within myself and hopefully be as good of a captain and friend as she was.”
According to teammate Warren Clark ’21, Ugwonali possesses a contagious energy on the court that pushes the team and remains consistent regardless of the score.
“Chioma brings so much energy onto the court with her, not only because it’s her job as captain, but because that’s who she is as a player. Even if we’re down a few points and she subs in, the energy is immediately brought back up, which helps us come back score-wise,” said Clark.
Ugwonali emphasized her enthusiasm towards her teammates as one of her favorite aspects of the sport. She also cites team bonding outside of the court as an important factor to keeping the team engaged and in tune with one another.
“I really love that feeling when my teammates crush the ball or make an amazing save and we get the point. I just love screaming their names. That gives me so much joy because I can let out my excitement and it’s not strange or anything for me to yell out,” said Ugwonali, “…I love how we have team bonding– we do team bonding activities outside and have team dinners at our coach’s house pretty much every Friday. Those are just so fun and uplift my spirits. We always keep each other engaged,” said Ugwonali.
According to teammate Ridley Warner ’22, Ugwonali is not only an admirable captain, but she also serves as a crucial net player.
“Chioma helps the team, and especially me, by blocking and hitting because she helps me set up my block. Then, if we are going for a block together, she will say a count… For me, being on varsity my first year and having her as captain, I really want to emulate what she is showing because she is a really, really, nice captain and really tries to pump everyone up on the sidelines,” said Warner.
Ugwonali strives to find the right balance between critique and encouragement while the team is still early in the season.
“I consider myself an empathetic person, but I want to challenge my teammates and have them challenge themselves […] We established early on in the season that the time is now to critique one another because later in the season, people are [going to] take the critiques personally. So I’ve been trying to mimic that behavior by offering critiques but also tons of encouragement.”
Ugwonali hopes that through encouraging and pushing one another, the team will be able to achieve an undefeated season.
“I have learned that volleyball is more of a mental game than I thought it was over these past three whole seasons… every set, you have to have that winning mindset regardless of the results of the next point… I’m going to continue to remind the team that we have what it takes, and take each game one point at a time. I know we’ll make it there,” said Ugwonali.