Teams tabbed to contend for titles typically own a common trait: experience. That’s not the case for the volleyball team this season.
The Owls, picked in an Atlantic Ten Conference coaches’ poll to finish first in the East Division, return just four players from last year’s squad, which finished 16-14 and captured the A-10 East crown. They’ll feature 10 freshmen.Junior Patricia Vernon, one of the team’s lone veterans, said, “[I’ll have to] get more kills, more blocks, more aces and pick up my game 100 percent.”
“Preseason we worked really, really hard,” Vernon continued. “I know the returners did a lot of camps with coach and did a lot of lifting and working out. We’re just trying to get stronger.”
Vernon will be looked to provide support around the net, as she returns to the lineup as a two-year All-Conference Second Team selection. She led the Owls last year with 30 block solos and 69 block assists. Senior outside hitter Yue Liu, who boasts two consecutive All-Conference First Team honors, will also be expected to guide the team. Liu led the Owls with 441 kills and 384 digs last season.
Senior Sun Ying Ling finished second with 313 digs last season, when she was voted to the All-Conference Second Team.
To fill in the voided roster spots, coach Bob Bertucci, now in his 13th season, will look to several freshmen.Cayleigh Ashman, who earned High School Athlete of the Year honors at a Philadelphia awards program for the National Girls and Women in Sports Day, heads a group of four freshmen expected to see significant time in the rotation. The others – Caitlin Loudon, Jacqueline Cowden and Tatiana Hithe – each achieved all-conference honors.
“What we’re dealing with right now in this early part of the season is those players making the step from high school to college,” Bertucci said. “I mean, it’s a huge step, really. We’re asking four of them to do it on a regular basis. “It’s a lot different watching a college offense compared to a high school offense. The speed of it and just the complexity of it – it’s going to just take them a little longer.”
Loudon spent part of her summer at camps to help ease the transition.
“I conditioned a lot and worked on setting,” Loudon said. “I went to a lot of camps and just tried to tune up my setting. It’s a lot faster than high school and club. Everything moves at a faster pace, so that takes some getting used to.”
With the youth movement officially sanctioned, it may take some time before the Owls hit full stride, but the team showed its resilience last week. The Owls battled back from a two-game hole to even up the contest before ultimately falling to Delaware in the match’s deciding game.
“I think we [have] our work cut out for us, but I do think that we have a better team this year than we had last year,” Bertucci said. “It’s just going to take us a while to develop it. Right now we [have] to worry about each team that we’re playing.”
Anthony Stipa can be reached at email@example.com.