The Owls are gearing up for their opening game against Buffalo on Aug. 30.
This year’s roster has eight new faces and is a much younger team than seasons past. Coach Bakeer Ganes and his assistants are preparing for a new conference as well, as the team moves to the American Athletic Conference.
“Preseason camp is going really well,” Ganes said. “It’s exciting because we have eight newcomers, and this camp makes it easier to become acclimated with the team. The players have been doing a really good job, working very hard. They all came back from the summer in great shape.”
In previous years, the team has not had a preseason, but this month Ganes was able to get all the girls into school earlier to start practicing.
“It’s exciting to be able to work on game scenarios and game drills,” Ganes said. “In the past we have not had a full squad before the season starts, but now we have the ability to all work together, which is nice.”
The 2013 version of the volleyball team will be led by seniors Gabriella Matautia and Elyse Burkert. Both athletes excelled last year as juniors. Matautia was selected to the first team All-Atlantic 10 and Burkert was selected to the Miami (OH) Invitational All-Tournament team. They led the team last year in digs and kills, while starting all 30 games.
“I want to start out strong this season, help get our team off to a good start, and finish the season at my best,” Matautia said. “We have depth on our team and a lot of new players that bring additional strengths. I think together we have a great chance to compete against these big teams, and better our overall record compared to last year.”
The team is coming into 2013 as the seventh most improved team in Division I from 2011 to 2012, as they won 11 more games last season. They finished 19-11, placing fifth in the conference and landing a trip to the conference tournament for the first time since 2009.
The Owls have eight newcomers to the roster: Mary Claire Tuohy, Caroline Grattan, Kirsten Overton, Halle McCullough, Tyler Davis, Kayla Yingling, Sandra Sydlik and Emily Carlin. Five of the eight are incoming freshman.
This season will feature a slew of new opponents, as the team moves to its new conference.
“The American Athletic Conference will be much more competitive and give our team a chance to push ourselves and see what we can achieve,” Burkert said. “I personally am excited for the new competition and chance to play at a higher level.”
The new conference will also affect how much the team travels.
“Our competition this year is a little more geographically spread out with our new conference, which means we will travel more,” Matautia said. “We have to win as many matches on the road as we can. This isn’t always an easy task because we play a tough match Friday night, travel on Saturday, and then play against another team on Sunday. We have to figure out early in the season what we need to do as a team to be ready for each competition so that we can be more successful when we are on the road.”
This year, Burkert and Matautia face an adjustment to their new roles as the most experienced athletes on the team.
“I think as a senior more people look up to you because you have done it all more than anyone else on the team, so in that sense I will be more of a leader,” Matautia said. “With my co-captain from the past two years gone I think I have taken on a little bit more leadership as well, but everyone on this team seems to be self-motivated and we all really push each other and hold each other accountable.”
The volleyball team begins its season in New York this weekend, as it participates in the University at Buffalo Invite.
Rich Fogel can be reached at email@example.com.