Ace's Girls and the volleyball team pose for the camera
EASTON, Mass. (June 7, 2013) – Last year Stonehill College volleyball coach Lauren Amundson organized and implemented a new community program called Ace's Girls. She wished to connect her student-athletes with young females in the area to discuss physical and mental well-being and introduce basic volleyball skills.
"It's an opportunity for them to be active and start playing sports and learn how sports can help impact their lives," said Amundson on why she started the program.
The first year of Ace's Girls went very well, as both the kids and the student-athletes learned a lot from guest speakers such as head women's basketball coach Trisha Brown who discussed passion and head women's lacrosse coach Katie Conover who focused on the importance of being active.
Coach Amundson and the team followed along the same lines for this year, utilizing more guest speakers such as Stonehill's Director of Residence Life Kristen Pierce and Associate Professor of Communication Anne Mattina.
The importance of physical and mental well-being is enormous for the kids and student-athletes, but what makes the program really unique is the interaction between the team and the young girls who participate. Over the course of the eight-week program, the athletes and kids became really close, something parents Pauline Lysko and Liza Talusan can attest to.
"My daughters Mary and Kathryn had a lot of fun and really loved it," said Lysko. "It was a good opportunity for them to spend time with young women who model the values of fitness, hard work, and a competitive spirit."
"Joli is learning how to be a strong girl – both physically and emotionally – from (the) team," said Talusan, whose daughter Joli participated in the program this year.
Joli Talusan is a 9-year old girl who lives in the area. When she was two years old, she was diagnosed with a form of cancer that left her with a prosthetic eye and limited vision. With her vision limitations she sometimes feels timid in athletic arenas, especially gym class.
"Joli has 'hated' gym class," Talusan continued. "Even though we are an active family, and physical fitness is role modeled for her, she has never felt comfortable moving her body in large groups of kids. Her vision limitations certainly impact some of this, but she is also just a shy, timid young girl who prefers to draw and paint than hit and kick. Joli has enjoyed going to ACES Girls because she feels 'safe and included'. She is surrounded by a diverse group of kids who are encouraged to work together."
Assistant Coach Kathleen Colpoys instructs some of Ace's Girls
Even though Ace's Girls is a program geared towards teaching the kids, the young women on the volleyball team seem to really enjoy it. Soon-to-be juniors Mary-Kate Catton and Emily Iverson explained their experiences with Ace's Girls.
"I really love working with the kids because it is fun to see how they develop throughout the weeks in the program," said Mary-Kate Catton, who ranked third on the team in kills and total blocks in 2012. "The more and more we get to know them and help bring out their personalities, the more they start to affect us Stonehill players during our time with them."
Iverson, a 2012 NE-10 All-Conference Second Team member, agreed with Catton: "I think the girls really love the fact that we go through everything with them, and really try to connect with each of them on a more personal level. I think the girls really appreciate having us as positive role models that are so readily available to them; they also love the fact that we are college athletes- one girl last year asked us if we were like professionals."
Catton stressed the importance of the program and how much of a positive effect it has on the kids involved.
"My favorite part of Ace's Girls is when you see the girls start to bond together," said Catton. "You will see them saying encouraging words to their teammates, giving high fives, and just really start to form a cohesive Ace's Girls team which is really cool considering most didn't know each other when they first came in. I also like to see the girls that came back from last year as well; it is cool to see how much they have changed since we last saw them."
Liza Talusan says that the bond between the girls and the Stonehill volleyball team continues even after the program ends.
"Here's the true testament of the women on the team," Talusan started. "About a month after Ace's Girls ended, Joli did a program here at Stonehill on her cancer journey. The ENTIRE volleyball team showed up. Joli was so thrilled. It was such a show of solidarity, support, and a demonstration of what the coaches and players teach: we are all stronger when we support each other."