By Marc Weems
Last season, the Youngstown State University volleyball team finished at 8-22 with an 0-9 record at home. YSU came in last place in the Horizon league. It is yet again projected to come in ninth out of nine teams this season.
“It’s not a surprise to me. We finished in last place last season,” YSU Head Coach Mark Hardaway said. “Our conference was very strong last year. The conference ranked ahead of Conference-USA, the MAC [Mid-American Conference] and the Missouri Valley. Most of those conferences got multiple teams into the tournament last year. We lost an All-Conference center and pretty good middle.”
YSU lost both Val Jeffrey and Lori Vanbeek, both of which were its’ best players last season. Replacing both of them has been tough for YSU thus far.
“To us, we have to prove that we deserve to be placed somewhere [other] than [where] we are,” Hardaway said. “I think the underdog role is a great role. If you come in with a little bit of a chip on your shoulder, there is never anything wrong with that.”
YSU has four seniors to lead it into the season. Sam Brown, Paige Saunders, Heather Splinter and Lauren Blanco are all the leading players for this team.
“We are making a lot of new changes. We have two new freshmen who will be making a huge impact on this year’s team,” Senior Setter Splinter said. “A lot of people stayed over the summer to work and practice. We kind of came into the preseason pretty ready to go.”
Splinter set her career-high with 15 kills against Robert Morris University.
“I think Varc [Sarah Varcolla] will take the lead in the middle for us,” Splinter said. “I’ve set my whole three years with Val, so that really helped prepare me for the upcoming season. She was a big help to me and we are going to miss her terribly.”
Even projected last, that doesn’t stop YSU from competing.
“We’ve been working very hard this summer. From conditioning to working out, we’ve been working super hard to get to this point,” Outside Hitter Brown said. “I think all of our players have stepped up. A lot of our juniors from last year, seniors now, have already stepped up very well. The summer is the most important thing for us.”
Unfortunately for YSU, it only gets preseason work from Aug. 8 on.
“If we were picked to finish fourth, we’d be looking to finish in third, second or first,” Hardaway said. “Unless you were picked as the top team, you are always working. My first year here, we were picked last and we made the conference tournament. It gives you something to shoot. The conference will be strong again.”
He reiterated that being picked last was shocking but it gives the team a lot of motivation moving forward.
“All the teams that finished ahead of us have returned more startes and players. But, we will try and use that ranking as our motivation throughout the season,” Hardaway said.
Hardaway believes that its scrimmage against Duquesne University helped see where the team is currently at.
“That ranking will be complete motivation,” Splinter said. “When we hear that every coach voted us last … that is all the more reason to work twice as hard.”
YSU will start the year on the road at the Eagle Challenge. It’s a two-day run of three matches for YSU at Morehead State University. YSU’s first home game will be on Aug. 29 against Robert Morris University.