Volleyball: Tolliver and Thatcher named season co-MVPs
The UNH volleyball team received its conference championship rings Saturday night during its banquet at Sheraton Portsmouth Harborside Hotel, a venue chosen to raise the scale of their dinner considering the season's accomplishments.
"We used to hold it at Libby's, or we've held it at the skybox [in the Whittemore Center]," head coach Jill Hirschinger said. "Since they won [America East] this year, we went a little nicer."
On top of the ring ceremony, the night brought an unprecedented happening for the Wildcats. The Most Valuable Player award, determined by the players' votes, was given to both of the graduating seniors, Morgan Thatcher and Destiny Tolliver. Never before has there been a tie, and the 2014 selections sent off the two with a big honor.
Tolliver was taken by surprise.
"It was awesome. I didn't expect it all," Tolliver said. "It was an honor more than anything."
Junior Taylor Dunklau said it doesn't get easier to say goodbye to the senior class as seasons go by.
"I actually think it gets harder," Dunklau said. "Morgan [Thatcher] and Destiny [Tolliver], I've gotten so close to them over this past few years, so that definitely is tough to know that one of your friends, you're not going to see them unless they come and visit or you visit them."
Thatcher said she appreciates the respect she's gotten from her teammates and the atmosphere she and Tolliver were able to leave the Wildcats with.
"It's great to know that, when you leave somewhere, you leave positive things behind you," Thatcher said. "I think that's something destiny and I strived for, and I think we really succeeded."
Thatcher and Tolliver are the odd couple of the volleyball team. Thatcher is a loud, brash city girl from Brockton, Mass. Tolliver is a soft-spoken, horse-loving girl from the small town of Rochester, Mich.
Despite their differences, the two clicked immediately. From the time they were freshmen, they were "inseparable," Hirschinger said.
"We instantly became friends," Thatcher said. "It was kind of weird, because there's nothing about us that is the same, so it's a very weird friendship, but we literally finish each other's sentences. We will fight one second, and we're best friends in another second, so we're so compatible ... whatever someone's not, the other person is."
This friendship shaped the two, as both players and as women. Both credit each other for tempering one another's weaknesses. Thatcher said of herself that she had "no filter" her freshman year, often blurting out whatever popped into her head without giving it much thought. Tolliver said little, if anything, in times of conflict or loss. By sharing company, the two began to adopt each other's strengths.
Tolliver recalled one particular instance in which Thatcher encouraged her to speak her mind. During their sophomore year, the team was on a bus trip after a game, and the players were sorting out a problem in their ranks.
"Morgan just looked at me, and I knew I had to say something because [the situation] really bothered me," Tolliver said. "She just gave me this look, and it was like, 'I'd better speak up now,' and I think that was the turning point of it all. When I'd get upset, she'd just give me this look like, 'Say something, I need to voice my opinion.'"
Likewise, Thatcher recalled Tolliver's influence.
"The biggest thing I learned from Destiny is to think before I talk," Thatcher said. "I would say whatever comes to my brain first and then sometimes it would be wait, that didn't come out right ... So that's one thing I learned from her. You need to think before you speak so that other people can have a word or two, and I think the big thing she learned from me was to speak her mind."
"We always joke about how Morgan came in with no filter," Tolliver said. "She would just say whatever was on her mind, and I think that I was always ready to give her the same look, and she's like, 'Okay, okay, I can't say that.'"
Hirschinger noted the change in Thatcher since her freshman days.
"When she was a freshman, everyone was kind of afraid of her, because she looked pretty tough, and then when she let that little teddy bear out, it made a big difference," Hirschinger said. "We see that in her now. She's really softened... By junior, senior [year], she'd turned into a fantastic strong woman."
Thatcher said that she and Tolliver still maintain their trademark qualities, which added up to a healthy powerful balance between two captains. While Tolliver tried to keep to herself after losses in a practice scrimmage, Thatcher would often give her a sisterly jab, letting that filter go for a moment.
"If [Tolliver] loses, she doesn't want to talk to anyone, and she goes into her corner and she pouts for like ten minutes, takes her shoes off, starts slamming them everywhere, and then five minutes later she's fine," Thatcher said. "But I will be the first one to look at her and say, 'Well, sucks to suck, doesn't it?' It was one of those things where we were so competitive with each other, but at the end of the day we wanted each other to succeed."
Tolliver and Thatcher led by example on the court as well. Thatcher finished 2014 a first team All-America East player, while Tolliver was a second team all-conference.
To end their collegiate careers with a conference championship this season meant a lot to the two seniors. They had lost in the conference semifinals the previous two years. On the bus ride home from Albany after their playoff loss in 2011, Tolliver and Thatcher promised Hirschinger that they would bring a championship to UNH before they left.
"Jill looked at us and was kind of like, 'Gosh darn it, we could have done it,' and we both looked at her and were like, 'Jill, we're going to win this before we leave,' and that was a huge testament to us, we put our foot down," Tolliver said. "And we did it. We won a championship."
Because only Thatcher and Tolliver are graduating this year, this is the first time in a while that Hirschinger hasn't needed to invite the seniors to join in the spring exhibition games. Tolliver and Thatcher said they don't mind, though. Thatcher now has time to focus on her work as a student teacher, and Tolliver is happy to have the spring off to relax and get ready for her move this summer to Florida.
"I've kind of moved on," Tolliver said. "I'm in a different part of my life now, I need a little break from volleyball, and so it was good ... It was a good transition because I could still go and watch them play if I wanted to, but it wasn't demanding."
The seniors' presence on and off the court will be missed by both players and coaches alike.
"It was really emotional," junior Katie Sattora said. "They were just awesome leaders. They had a really great relationship with each other, which I think set an awesome example for all of us."
"They played a big role in the development of this program," Hirschinger said. "We're really going to miss them, they've been kind of a one two force and just them on the court."
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