Losses in best-of-5 matches are the hardest for Dalaney Tuholski to let go.
Especially on bus rides back to Vancouver when the 2015 Heritage High School graduate and first-year player on Clark College’s volleyball team replays moments she can’t help but take personally after a defeat.
“I’ve never been a player who let it get into my head,” said Tuholski, 20.
Tuholski is a freshman starting outside hitter for Clark, the Northwest Athletic Conference’s top-ranked team by the coaches poll at 19-3 entering Wednesday’s 6:30 p.m. home match against Mt. Hood. All three losses are in best-of-5 matches on the road.
Even at her best moments, Tuholski is her worst critic. She knows it, too.
It didn’t used to be this way, not when she was an all-league and all-state player at Heritage, and not when she was recruited to play setter at NCAA Division-II West Texas A&M.
What’s changed now in her first competitive season since 2015 is the people she leans on for support, especially the close-knit teammates on a bus always there to pick her up.
“Those are your friends you have for life,” Tuholski said. “Your teammates from college. Not high school, your college teammates.
“I can turn to them, and they’ll be there.”
Tuholski says she likely wouldn’t be playing college volleyball anymore if coach Mark Dunn didn’t take a chance on her, a person who not only spent a year-plus away from competitive volleyball, but has grown in maturity.
This time a year ago, Tuholski was gone from West Texas A&M. Her re-aggravation from a surgically-repaired left ankle prematurely ended her freshman season in 2015 just four matches in.
So she turned to coaching. Tuholski remained active through a different side of the game while contemplating her future. At 19, she coached at Camas High School and in the club volleyball circuit with Vancouver-based NW Reign. She led her Camas ‘C’ team to an undefeated season in 2016.
Coaching was a side to volleyball she needed — and a future she wants– because it rekindled spark for returning to the game as a player.
More importantly, she powered through her psychological roadblock that kept her sidelined.
“It took me time for me to be OK and realize my ankle is fine,” Tuholski said. “That was a big mental thing. What’s stopping me now? The answer is nothing; it was myself.”
Dunn said he saw a special talent in Tuholski to play setter and right-side for Clark, but also had holes to fill in his rotation at outside hitter. Her arm swing, he said, reminds him of Livia Strandberg, a 2016 American Volleyball Coaches Association’s (AVCA) Two-Year College’s All-American for Clark. Strandberg now plays at Concordia.
“I thought she could fit into the system where she could swing it and be successful,” Dunn said.
So far, she hasn’t disappointed. Tuholski leads the team in kills per set (3.03), and Clark ranks first in the NWAC in total blocks and blocks per set.
That’s only part of the reason why there’s no hesitation from either Tuholski or Dunn when they speak of the Penguins talking about “our year” to win the NWAC Championships, set for Nov. 16-19 in Tacoma.
“I don’t have any doubt that anyone one of us don’t think that this is our year,” Tuholski said.