As always, expectations are high for the volleyball team this season.
In a poll of the conference’s head coaches,
the Owls were picked to win the Atlantic Ten Conference East Division.
“Honestly, I’m surprised they picked us to finish first in our division,” said coach Bob Bertucci, now in his 12th season at the helm. “That’s based more on the history we’ve developed here over the last 10 years then where we actually belong right now.”
The Owls have appeared in every Atlantic Ten Conference tournament since 1996, winning four championships. They last won it all in 2002.
The Owls (5-2 overall) are a smaller team – in height and in numbers – then last season’s squad, which lost the A-10 Championship match to Dayton in three games. That team had 15 players. This team has 11.
Despite the personnel turnover, the goal is still the same: win the A-10 Championship.
“It’s a big step,” Bertucci said. “We lost a lot of players to graduation or transfer, so we don’t have the depth that we’ve had in the past. That means the returning players have to pick up that slack.
“We have to stay healthy; that’s going to be absolutely paramount. Our team really has to play as a team. We’re going to have to get good in every position just to get back to where we were last year.” Bertucci said he entered the season needing to fill a hole in the middle blocking position. He decided to move sophomore Patricia Vernon, a 2005 A-10 Second
Team selection from the right side over to the middle.
“I’m pretty happy with the improvement she’s made and I feel like she could, before the end of the season, be better then the players we’ve lost at that position,” Bertucci said.
Vernon defends the net alongside junior middle blocker Christina DeMarco.
DeMarco, who earned A-10 Honorable Mention honors in 2005, said the middle blockers are performing better then they did last season at this point.
“I’m more confident in the middle now because I’ve had two years of experience at the position,” she said. “It’s tough and sometimes I get really frustrated, but I view it as a challenge
and I try to get better at it everyday.”
On the outside, Yue Liu, an A-10 First Team selection last year, leads the team with 102 kills and 13 aces this season.
“(Liu) could be an all-American but she has to be on a team that is playing at that level for her to accomplish that,” Bertucci said of the junior outside hitter. “The challenge for her is, can she play her best game when the opposing team is double-and-triple-teaming her? Because right now, everyone is going to be after her, and if she can rise to accept that challenge and overcome it … I think she can be successful.”
After defeating Rutgers (30-21, 30-16, 30-22) and Maine (30-10, 21-30, 30-21, 30-28) Saturday, the Owls next eight matches are on the road, starting with the Utah Classic on Sept. 8.
Bertucci said the team must play better away from home after appearing “rattled” during its road loss to Delaware last week. The Owls must maintain the right attitude, train hard and be committed to being successful, he said.
“If they fulfill those expectations, everything else will start to fall into place,” Bertucci said. “We’ll win the matches that we should win and we’ll win a few we’re not supposed to win.”
The Owls have developed great chemistry, but must continue to improve during the early part of the season, DeMarco said.
“Its very important for us to work on the technical things – getting our defense straight, getting our offense on course, making sure we go into the A-10 tournament completely prepared
for our opponents,” she said.
“We need to be more concerned about what’s happening on our side of the net rather then the other side,” DeMarco said. “When we’re playing our ‘A’ game, I think we’re unstoppable in the A-10.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.