Despite going 16-15, the Youngstown State University volleyball team came within one victory of the Horizon League Championship match last season, falling to Valparaiso in the semifinals.
With star players like Jenna Cavanaugh, Nichele Johnson, Jackie Carlisle and Missy Hundelt gone from the team after graduating, YSU only has two seniors on its roster in 2014 — Alexis Egler and Shannon Watson.
Head coach Mark Hardaway is confident that these seniors can become team leaders this year.
“I think as seniors, they both have to lead,” Hardaway said. “They’ll both be on the court quite a bit, so we expect both of them to shoulder the leadership. They have to carry a big load this year from the leadership and productivity standpoints.”
Both Egler and Watson have set lofty goals for the upcoming season. Egler, who has started all 60 matches of her YSU career and has 343 kills and 329 digs to her credit, said she wants to continue to improve her game.
“I want to get my kills up and I want to have a better hitting percentage as well,” Egler said. “I want to basically help this team out.”
Watson, who ranks 16th all-time in block assists with 189 and 18th all-time in blocks with 205, said she intends to play with consistency.
“I see myself as a more consistent player at my position,” she said. “I know I’ve been pushed around positions the past few years, but I can still come back in the middle of my senior year and kind of keep up with the numbers I’ve put up.”
The volleyball season begins with three matches in a 24-hour span at the Belmont Invitational in Nashville, where the team will play the University of Evansville, Belmont University and Kennesaw State University. Egler and Watson said they’re ready for it.
“We’re used to a back-to-back in a tournament, so we’ll have to focus on getting the win and moving on to the next match,” Egler said.
Watson agreed with Egler.
“We have to both celebrate the win and get over the loss, whichever happens, and just prepare quickly for the next match,” Watson said.
Not long after the Belmont, YSU plays in the Robert Morris Invitational in Pittsburgh and the Wildcat Classic at Northwestern University in Chicago. Watson and Egler relish the opportunity of playing in big tournaments.
“Playing at that level of competition will do nothing but make us better,” Egler said.
The volleyball team will look to improve this year and hopes to experience a successful postseason run.
“We both have confidence that we’ll be able to win the Horizon League,” Egler said. “As seniors, we want to make that NCAA Tournament appearance.”