Leah Polk, Contributing Writer
As a freshman, outside hitter Qairo Bentley had a few small roles on VCU’s volleyball team. Today, as a junior, she is a team captain, starter and mentor for all of her teammates.
Bentley said when she arrived her freshman year, she knew she was not going to be a starting player that year. The team already had eight talented seniors, so her role would be limited.
“They were playing better than me and at the end of that I was beat out,” Bentley said.
The Denver, Colorado, native said she was never upset about her lack of playing time during her freshman year. Instead, she used it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
“Freshman year I was taking in everything. I just observed how they [seniors] played the game and took what I learned from them my freshman year and applied it sophomore year,” Bentley said.
During her sophomore year, she was promoted to captain and by then, she was well equipped for the task.
Redshirt-sophomore setter Kaelyn O’Brien describes Bentley as any coach’s dream athlete.
“She’s pretty much what any coach or player would want on their team,” O’Brien said. “Even the coaches go to her for advice, so I think that also explains how good she is at her job.”
Bentley attributes her improved confidence level as the key difference between her freshman and sophomore year.
“I became more consistent and vocal,” Bentley said. “Skill wise, my passing and defending got better.”
Bentley’s newly found confidence turned her into the team leader in kills, ranking ninth in the Atlantic 10 conference with 175 kills, and playing in all 18 matches her sophomore year.
The road to becoming a starter was a learning experience that, according to Bentley, turned her into the player she is today.
Head coach Jody Rogers describes Bentley as a methodical, analytical player that cares about her teammates’ success just as much as her own.
“She provides a lot of offense, and her ability has gotten tremendously better because of her leadership and confidence skills,” Rogers said. “I still want her to keep getting better. I’d love for her to keep challenging herself to work harder and be the best in whatever she’s doing.”
The culture Rogers has built in the volleyball program challenges the athletes to work hard, according to the head coach.
“Someone’s always there to take your spot. They have to work harder and harder every day to be better, so they don’t get replaced,” Rogers said. “I love them hard, but I also challenge them hard. I only want them to be successful later on in life.”
The VCU volleyball team has been able to maintain this culture because players and coaches keep each other accountable, according to Rogers.
In the position of captain, Bentley makes her teammates feel comfortable and want to be challenged, according to Rogers. The junior has the skills to be successful and she has “paved the pathway” for her teammates.
“She really stepped up and became someone that everyone on our team looks up to and respects,” O’Brien said.
Bentley said she wants to win every game and continue to work hard in practice; she said the goal for the team is to win a conference championship and get a ring.
“I would tell my freshman self to be more confident. I made it here for a reason and there’s nothing to be fearful of,” Bentley said. “You have nothing to lose. You just have to give it your all.”