By Dan Hiner
The Youngstown State University volleyball team will travel to Indianapolis, Indiana to compete in the Butler Invitational on Friday.
This will be the final non-conference tournament before the Penguins open their conference schedule at home against the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay on Sept. 24.
The Penguins will compete in a three-game tournament against Butler University, Southern Illinois University and the University of Missouri.
“I think playing Missouri will definitely be a really big challenge for us because they are undefeated so far, and they are obviously very strong. I’m more excited to see how we handle this next weekend going into conference [play],” middle blocker Aly Ryan said.
Nikki Thompson said the team’s chemistry was starting to develop during the Country Financial Redbird Classic. The team lost two out of three matches, but the team beat the University of Toledo for the second time this season.
“We were definitely starting to come together more. We were starting to pick up on things that we didn’t do very well,” Thompson said. “We’re working more on working together and making sure we’re having fun in the process. Obviously, the Illinois State match was one we wanted to win.”
The Penguins are entering the Butler Invitational with a 5-6 record, and are trying to work out any kinks before YSU begins Horizon League play.
“I thought we played well,” Ryan said. “I don’t think, so far this year, we’ve haven’t gotten into a rhythm yet. We definitely have been playing well together, but I think with some new people in the lineup and having lost our two seniors. We’re still trying to get used to each other. All this non-conference play is just practice and preparing us for the future. I think we’re definitely close to getting into our rhythm. We’ve been getting better, but we still aren’t there yet.”
Last season, YSU averaged 2.35 blocks per set, but this season the Penguins are averaging 1.80 blocks per set. Shannon Watson, one of the players who graduated after last season, led the team in blocks last year. Mark Hardaway, the YSU head volleyball coach, said the front row has to improve for the defense to get better.
“We’re not blocking as well as we did last year, and I feel like our defensive players are a strength this year, but I think since we’re not doing as good of a job at the net blocking, I think we’ve made the back rows job very hard,” Hardaway said. “The front rows got to get a little more disciplined in our blocking. Until we get to a point where we’re blocking as well as we did last year, our defensive kids are just going to have to pick it up and save us when we screw up in the front row.”
Offensively, the Penguins have been down statistically. While the stats haven’t seen a horrible drop off, YSU is still below last season’s averages in digs, kills and assists. Hardaway said the team needs to be “more consistent” as they get ready for conference play.
“We’re going to have to continue to get better everyday. We only graduated two from last year, the two we graduated were a very big part of everything we did. I still think we aren’t quite in sync yet with a couple of new people. I think we have to stay positive and continue to get better everyday,” Hardaway said. “From an offensive standpoint, we have to take advantage of the opportunities we can get. We had some great opportunities to score points where we haven’t. It means the hitters need to be a little more aggressive when they have one-on-one blocking or an open net. I think they have to be a lot more aggressive.”