The Youngstown State University volleyball team caught fire early this season, already acquiring more wins in 11 matches than it did all last season.
The Penguins, 5-24 in 2011, sit at the top of the Horizon League standings. They won eight of their l ast nine matches, boasting an overall record of 8-3.
After dropping their first two matches to Eastern Kentucky University and Michigan State University, the Penguins were perfect in eight matches before falling to the University of Akron on Saturday.
In the midst of their eight-match winning streak, the Penguins swept four of their eight opponents. Volleyball coach Mark Hardaway credits the team’s recent success to the ability to control matches.
“We’ve been the aggressor, playing hard the whole match and finishing games out,” Hardaway said.
Hardaway, who said he is enjoying the moment, wants his team to get better every day.
“Whether you’re 0-10 or 10-0, you’re striving to compete for a conference championship,” he said.
When Hardaway took the job, he said he expected the team to not be physically gifted. He quickly found out otherwise.
“This team has a lot of athletic talent,” he said. “They are willing to work hard, hungry to win and have a great work ethic.”
Hardaway admitted he was a bit disappointed with the way the team came into summer.
“Fitness level as a whole was disappointing,” Hardaway said. “Some players didn’t come in as good of shape as we had hoped, while others came in real good shape.”
Junior middle blocker Jenna Cavanaugh agreed with Hardaway about the versatility of the team.
“Our offense is really strong,” she said. “You can put any person in any position, and we can compete.”
Coming off Horizon League Defensive Player of the Week honors, Cavanaugh said she has high expectations for both herself and the team.
“I want to stay in the top three in blocking and in hitting percentage in the league,” she said.
Cavanaugh said she believes that staying positive and focusing on the little things will continue to bring the team success.
Hardaway said reducing the amount of unforced errors and improving ball control is something the team still needs to work on.
“We don’t want to give away points, and against teams like Cleveland State and Milwaukee, we can’t,” he said.
Junior setter Casey D’Ambrose credits her team for being “hardworking.”
“We’ve come such a long way since last season,” D’Ambrose said. “It’s all about motivation. We’re all pumped and ready to prove that we’re a good team.”
The Penguins travel to Greensboro, N.C., this weekend to compete in the Spartan Spiketacular. YSU will face Morehead State University on Friday, and play the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and the University of North Carolina Wilmington on Saturday.