BETHLEHEM, Pa. – Over the past four years, the Lehigh volleyball team has seen a huge turnaround in its record and overall success. After missing the Patriot League tournament for five consecutive years from 2004-2008, the team has qualified for postseason play in three of the past four seasons. A major reason for the turnaround has been senior middle blocker Taylor Poole.
A three-time first team All-Patriot League performer, Poole played in all 111 matches in her career. As a freshman, she made an immediate impact as she played and started in all 30 matches and finished fourth on the team in kills and second in blocks. She continued her success into the next season, when she was named the team’s athlete of the year. In her junior year, Poole led the Patriot League in overall attack percentage (.324) and attack percentage in league play (.389).
"She was consistently one of our best attackers if not the best attacker," head coach Bob Bertucci said. "She did all the things we ask her to do to the best of her abilities."
Poole’s teammates also relied on her to make important plays in a match. If the game was on the line and a point needed to be won, the Mountain Hawks knew they could count on their senior to come up with a clutch block or vital kill.
"Taylor has always been our biggest offense player," said sophomore Jade Van Streepen. "She gets the leading kills in most of the games we play and the whole team knows they can always count on her to get a kill when we really need one."
Poole was one of just three Lehigh players to play in all 95 sets this season and led the team with 217 kills and a .262 hitting percentage. She also led the Mountain Hawks with 75 block assists and 86 total blocks. Her 86 blocks this season gave her 276 in her career, good for 12th all-time at Lehigh.
Along with being a standout player, Poole has also earned respect as a leader and captain.
"She was our lone senior and that is a tough role to be in," said Bertucci. "She worked hard over the last year and a half with our leadership academy trying to hone her skills to be a good leader. It was a new role for her but she did a good job learning on the fly."
As a middle blocker, Poole covers nearly the entire court and follows the ball no matter where it is set by opponents to squash the oppositions kill attempts. She knows that her position is very demanding and exhausting but still loves her role.
"I have been a middle blocker since seventh grade," she explained. "The coaches usually put the tallest girls there and most girls change positions, but I never did. My responsibility is to block wherever the ball goes and to be able to transition and hit. Most positions stay in the same area on the court but the middle blockers move across the court."
Teammates notice Poole’s effort in each match and value their senior captains work rate and dedication to the team.
"Middle blockers have a tough job because they have to close the block on every play and be up in transition in order to attack," Van Streepen said. "Taylor has always worked hard so that she can do those things and contribute to the team's success."
Poole highlights two matches as her most memorable during her Lehigh career, and in each, her performance was instrumental in leading Lehigh’s team to a win. Both matches were victories against perennial power American. In the past 11 years, American has won the Patriot League and qualified for the NCAA tournament 10 times.
Lehigh defeated American 3-0 a season ago for just the third time in program history, and in doing so, handed the Eagles their only league loss of the season. In this year’s match against American, Lehigh won 3-2 and the victory was the programs first ever win against American on the road. Poole’s 12 kills in the match tied a team-high and her seven blocks was best on the team. She also registered the game-winning kill, which capped off Lehigh’s 15-13 win in the fifth set.
"Last year when we got into a conference game, she took her game to another level," said Bertucci. "American was double teaming her this year all the time and she still put in a good performance."
Along with wins over American and other teams, Poole knows that she will take away great memories and relationships from Lehigh as her career as a Mountain Hawks ends.
"I feel like Lehigh volleyball has always been close and to keep building on that is something I’m happy that I did," she said. "It’s been great to get to travel, see places and play competitive teams. Building relationships has been very exciting. We have six juniors and being really close with them helps us have really strong upperclassmen."
Poole hopes to use her ability to build and maintain relationships as a strength in the future. As her Mountain Hawk career has now ended on the court, the marketing and finance double major hopes to put her degree to immediate use after graduating.
"I knew in high school that I wouldn’t be playing volleyball after college," she explained. "Ideally I’d like to go into commercial banking and be an analyst. I like people and I like numbers so I think it would be nice to work with people and financial solutions, it’s something I think would be fun."
Written by Cameron Omsberg ‘13