Standing as the lone senior on the Georgia College volleyball team, Chandler Ewaldsen can reflect at her three-plus years on campus and know that she put the hard work in to get to this point, both athletically and academically.
The starting defensive specialist is constantly viewed by her teammates as the leader of this team, both on and off the court, but her time on the team has not always been easy for the Savannah, Georgia, native. She has had to fight for a spot on the team for most of her time at GC.
And in light of Senior Day, to be celebrated Sunday, Nov. 12, Ewaldsen recently acknowledged that her four-year fight to be a Bobcat has been worth it.
Ewaldsen hails from a family of athletes. Her father, Greg, played basketball for four years at the University of Georgia. Her mother, Gail, played basketball at Gainesville Junior College. As a result, Chandler grew up in athletics. She has competitively played volleyball, soccer and basketball.
“We just encouraged both of our kids to play as many sports as they wanted, and we made sure that they had all the practice and all the dedication that they needed for all three sports,” said Gail Ewaldsen. “One season would end and she would go into the next one and she never wanted to pick, and we never made her pick.”
Ewaldsen carried those three sports into high school. The 5-foot-9 Ewaldsen was a three-sport athlete at Savannah Christian Academy and in her senior year, propelled her high school volleyball team to the semifinals, as well as captained the basketball team and played soccer. But she knew she could only take one sport to the next level.
“My senior year volleyball season ended and I went into basketball, and then went into soccer and I was like, ‘you know, I don’t think I’ve done everything with volleyball that I could have,’” Ewaldsen said. “It’s really mental and physical, so I really like both aspects of the game and I just said volleyball, that’s what I want to do.”
Ewaldsen began the college search, sending out her information to all the Peach Belt Conference schools in addition to schools like the University of Georgia, Mercer University and Toccoa Falls College. A friend told her about the rising popularity of Georgia College, prompting her to send her recruiting information over. She was skeptical about GC being a fit before her visit because she had not heard much about it.
“Honestly, I didn’t have a bunch of expectations,” Ewaldsen said. “I was like, ‘Ah, I’ll just come and whatever, just another recruiting trip,’ but I came and got to meet Gretchen [Krumdieck] and it was a different assistant coach at the time, but just being on campus. We walked around and got to be in the locker room and just see the gym, and I was just like, ‘You know, this is home.’ It was something different about the environment here and I knew from then that that’s where I should be.”
The feeling was mutual for GC head volleyball coach Krumdieck. Krumdieck attended a few of Ewaldsen’s high school games, enough to know she liked the way Ewaldsen handled herself on the court.
“I really didn’t see her play a lot, but it was a pretty easy conversation because I could tell her dedication and her work ethic and she was very mature,” Krumdieck said. “In the recruiting process, it’s really tough to be a 17- 18-year-old kid talking to a college coach about how much you want to come there, and she handled herself really well, and a lot of those intangibles is what really won me over in the long run.”
Ewaldsen came to GC in the fall of 2014 with aspirations of becoming a physician’s assistant and making a difference on the volleyball team.
She joined the team as an outside hitter, a position that is characterized by an attacking mindset. She played in 10 of the team’s 27 matches in 2014, collecting 56 kills in the process. In 2015, Ewaldsen played in 20 matches, but even then, there were three outside hitters who collected more playing time.
“She came in wanting to contribute, wanting to help the team and the first couple of years were hard because she didn’t see much playing time, but she stuck with it,” Gail Ewaldsen said of her daughter.
Greg Ewaldsen saw the perseverance that his daughter possessed and passed on the example from his college experience where he, too, went through a similar phase.
“I think just being able to stick with the sport, because in college, every athlete in their respective sports, they’re probably their high school all-star player,” Greg Ewaldsen said. “On the college level, everybody’s good. I think just having that mindset going in there. Working hard, just staying focused on her ability and doing what the coaches say and just try to learn the most you can, absorb everything you can.”
Even though Ewaldsen received limited playing time during her first two years, she said that she took notes of others and began to make an impact as a leader on the team, gaining the respect of her peers including Kayla Brockway.
“She leads by example, so it’s not what she says, it’s what she does,” said Brockway, a junior setter. “She’s positive, supportive. She doesn’t talk just to talk, she talks with purpose, and that makes people listen. She always has a reason behind what she’s saying, so everyone really listens to what she says in the huddle.”
Ewaldsen’s caring nature and leadership style also caught the attention of the GC coaching staff.
“Her teammates look up to her, and she’s always been like that” Krumdieck said. “They call her the team mom because she takes care of everybody, and she’s been like that since she probably was a sophomore, when she got her feet wet a little bit.”
Ewaldsen also leads by example off the court, including in the classroom. She was named a PBC Silver Scholar in 2014 and to the PBC All-Academic Team in 2015.
In the spring of 2016, coach Krumdieck approached Ewaldsen about a change in position from outside hitter to libero, also marking a change in jersey color.
“I was super excited just cause I love trying new things, but I was like starting from the very bottom you know,” Ewaldsen said. “[I] had played an aspect of that position ever since I played volleyball, but being solely focused on defense and passing and stuff, that was really different. So, at the beginning, I was just like ‘I know I’m at the bottom of the totem pole.’ I was No. 3 out of the three DSs that we had, but honestly that pushed me.”
Throughout the spring, Ewaldsen tallied countless hours working at the position, through team practices and extra work after practice. Krumdieck said she saw Ewaldsen begin to make strides in her craft and adapt well to the high intensity position.
“There weren’t a lot of breaks for her during the matches,” Krumdieck said. “I mean she comes out for a server and then she goes right back in, so it’s a really quick change, so mentally that can be really tough, but from her standpoint, she handled it really well. She’s a pretty tough cookie, so it was challenging but something she got over really quickly.”
Ewaldsen competed for the libero spot in early fall 2016, still working her way to the top. Before one of the matches at the Florida Tech Tournament last fall, Krumdieck gave the nod to Chandler to play the libero position.
“I just remember that day… coach pulled us aside and said, ‘Chan, you’re going to be libero today,’ and I was like, ‘Okay, she knows I can do it,’” Ewaldsen, who possess quiet confidence off the court, too, said. “And so, whenever the coaches said like hey, that you’ve got this and for them to say we trust you, and we trust you to be that leader on the court, I was just like, ‘Okay, I got it,’ so it was cool.”
That was just the beginning of a successful 2016 campaign for Ewaldsen and the Bobcats. Ewaldsen finished tied for the team-high in matches played and sets played that season, while finishing second in the PBC in digs per set (4.99). She also established a new GC single-season record for digs in a season with 569, and holds the single match record with 44 digs. The team followed suit, finishing with the best record in program history while making it to the PBC Tournament for the first time.
“To watch her shift to defense specialist and then the first few games kind of learn how to do that and then
take the libero job, which is huge,” said Sam Jones, who broadcast many of volleyball games over the past three seasons and is the current digital media coordinator for GC Athletics. “To come in and all of a sudden just take over that, it’s a really impressive transition to be able to do that.”
This season, as the only senior, Ewaldsen said that she has continued her role as a leader on the team, taking from her own experiences and the experience of her peers before her to be the best leader that she can be.
“[Players from the class of 2016 class have] always been there since I’ve gotten here, so just being able to watch them and see how they lead and take things that I like or that I don’t like and be able to mold that into how I want to be a leader on this team has helped a lot,” said Ewaldsen.
On the court, Ewaldsen is one of the first players to high-five her teammates and can be heard cheering on and encouraging her teammates after each play.
Ewaldsen has continued to be the ‘team mom’ for her teammates by looking out for them. Both Krumdieck and Brockway mentioned a signature of Ewaldsen’s is creating a packing list for the team before they travel to ensure that everyone has everything, especially the freshman, who often do not know what to expect toward the beginning of the year.
“She’s been the most welcoming person I think I could ever imagine,” said freshman Libby Bochniak. “She made the freshman transition so easy. She was calling us, texting us, writing us letters over the summer, just making it really feel like a family and a home before we ever got here, so she’s been a great leader on the team so far.”
As Ewaldsen continues to lead the Bobcats in her senior year, she often reflects on the experiences that will help her in life after she graduates in May 2018. Even though this is the last year of her volleyball career, she plans to continue to chase her dream of becoming a PA, and is looking at applying to PA school at schools such at Augusta University, Mercer University, MUSC, Charleston and Emory University.
Whichever road she takes, Ewaldsen said her experiences at GC have helped prepare her for the next chapter of her life.
She said, “I think being an athlete has just prepared me with time management and being able to put my mind to it and say hey, like this has to get done and like we have a game tonight, we’re traveling, so we have to do it, and just having that mindset going on into PA school hopefully and then into the work field.”