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Owl Volleyball Team Goes Retro

KEENE, N.H. 9/21/09 - No, your eyes aren’t deceiving you: The new uniforms the Keene State women’s volleyball team are wearing look a lot like the ones issued to the first varsity Owl teams back in the early and mid ’80s.

“The ’80s are back,” said Liz MacNaughton, a freshman outside hitter from Burlington, Conn.

“It’s pretty cool that they’re almost the same,” said junior libero Jamie Levine from Medfield, Mass.

“It’s fun to see that they’re wearing a kind of throwback uniform to what we wore,” said Gail Burgess ‘79, who played and coached at Keene State. “It’s a small tribute to some of the terrific teams we had back in the ’80s.”

Retro uniforms are the latest rage. Professional teams have been turning back the calendar for years. What better way to get those cash registers ringing at the local pro shops? It was only a matter of time before the concept eventually trickled down to the college ranks.

Actually, the resemblance for the KSC team is more coincidental than intentional. Senior setter Jordan Pokryfki designed the new volleyball uniforms. Given the fact that she was born in 1988, Keene State coach Bob Weiner aptly points out that her knowledge of the early Owl teams is extremely limited.

The Keene State team rotates its uniforms every three years. After conferring with several team members, Pokryfki decided to go with two versions. A solid red, long-sleeve uniform for home matches and a red and back, short-sleeve model when the team is on the road. Both sets have large numbers on the front and back - similar to those worn in the ’80s. “The jersey was exactly what I envisioned it would look like,” Pokryfki said.

The uniforms have gotten rave reviews by the players and coaches. “I like them a lot,” said sophomore Bridget O’Bryant from Merrimack. “They’re the latest style and the long sleeves are getting more popular.”

“We do stand out,” said Weiner. “Even though they are a little retro, they are the most modern. We’ve moved to the next generation.” Keene State assistant coach Lloyd Sheehan, whose tenure in the sport dates back to 1980, says that volleyball uniforms have come a long way. “One of the first uniforms I saw were called bloomers - literally bathing suit bottoms,” he said. “From there they went to different lengths of spandex. The players were able to move much easier, and their hands and thumbs didn’t get caught when diving and swinging.”

According to Burgess, her KSC club team in 1974 didn’t even wear the school’s colors, opting for green shorts and blue short-sleeve jerseys. When the team went varsity in 1975, Coach Cindy Book ushered in a long-sleeve top with larger numbers. “Keene State” was emblazoned down one arm and “volleyball” down the other.

The consensuses on past uniforms vary. “I liked our uniforms quite a bit, especially the long sleeves,” said Jackie Kirkwood, a four-year (1982-86) KSC player now living just outside of Charlotte, N.C. “Back then I would classify the uniforms as user friendly,” said Wendy (Swanson) Mattson, ‘83, residing in Strafford, N.H. “The players today are much more fortunate to have a nice look and a material conducive to playing the sport.”

When Trilby Whitcomb took over as coach in 1988, the Owls were already sporting spandex. The tops ranged from the more formal to a series of polyesters with vivid color and slashing prints and later to cotton jerseys with a net and ball highlighted on the front. The uniforms mean a lot to the players. There might be some truth to the theory that the better you look the better you play. “It does mean a lot,” said junior setter Sammi Datti of Durham, N.H. “If you feel good and comfortable - you play better.”

“When a team walks into a gym and they’re all looking good in their uniforms, it’s definitely intimidating to the other team,” said Emily Halbert, a freshman setter from Chester, N.J.

The Owls retired last year’s uniforms after capturing their first Little East championship and NCAA tournament berth. In addition to providing an up-to-date look, microfiber comfort, and maneuverability, Keene State players hope the new uniforms also bring them success.

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