By Marc Weems
After the Youngstown State University volleyball team (8-22, 2-14 Horizon League) struggled mightily, the slate is wiped clean as the spring season is upon us.
Last fall, the Penguins lost five close matches by a score of 3-2. At one point of the season, YSU had lost 17 out of 18 games including going 0-9 in the month of October.
“The spring helps because we get to work on a lot during practices,” outside hitter Sam Brown said. “Spring is more about trying new things. We take what we did in the fall that did or did not work, and do it better. Maybe I wasn’t hitting something as hard as I should be. Trying new things is the key to spring.”
Last season, Brown played in all 30 matches last season including a career-high 23 digs in a 3-2 loss to Duquesne University on August 30. She was also a part of the all-freshman team in 2014.
“Spring is huge every year,” YSU head coach Mark Hardaway said. “Everyone gets a chance to work on technique. In the fall, you get so caught up in prepping for matches, and trying to keep everyone healthy. It is big in the weight room for strength gains and again technique work is huge. If we want to introduce anything new, spring is the time to do it.”
Hardaway said that the team gets to work on everything that no one can in the fall.
One of the important things for YSU’s future is that eight of the 16 players on the team are either sophomores or freshman.
“I think this is very important,” middle blocker Sarah Varcolla said. “They get more training in and they aren’t ‘freshman’ anymore. They are more like sophomores now and getting into the groove of feeling more comfortable. Now, they just need to excel and keep working on things.”
Varcolla, just like Brown, was an all-freshman award winner in 2015. She had a career-high 16 kills against Duquesne on Sept. 5 of 2015.
“In spring matches, no one really sees the results,” Hardaway said. “You can work on something new, get beat and no one knows or hears about it. It really is about getting better for next year and that is hard for players to keep in mind. Like right now, they have all been lifting really heavy. They tell me ‘Coach, I’m tired’ and I tell them we have to keep pushing.”
Hardaway said that the goal is all about next year and that is super hard to have players understand.
“Coming back from the fall into the spring after a losing season is different,” Varcolla said. “I think it will bring a fire underneath us and to really come together to beat teams in our conference. I am looking to improve my blocking and hitting more. If I set up a better ball, everyone will know where to hit.”
YSU’s biggest part of the spring season is when it hosts a tournament with teams like the University of Akron, West Virginia University and the University of Pittsburgh.
“Right now our conference is as strong as it has ever been since I’ve been here,” Hardaway said. “We’ve been ahead of the MAC and the Missouri Valley so this is about challenging these girls to improve themselves. It’s more of a motivational thing and it is about practicing with urgency.”
Hardaway said that although the fall didn’t go as planned, he stays optimistic about the upcoming year.
“I know that we had to play some players that we didn’t want play because of injuries,” Hardaway said. “Some young girls got to play but some just had their first experience against Akron a few days ago. You want the freshman to start to contribute this spring and it starts now.”
YSU’s spring tournament starts at 10 a.m. on April 8 at the Beeghley Center.