Losing teammates to graduation can be hard, especially when those teammates are two-time Atlantic Ten Conference Setter of the Year Allison Runk and defensive stalwarts Laura Leis and Jill Fetrow.
But this year’s women’s volleyball team kicked off its season with a sense of team spirit and confidence despite those losses. Coach Bob Bertucci said the team’s optimistism stems from the Owls’ summer tour in China.
“[The trip to China] helped us shorten the learning curve,” Bertucci said. “These girls are miles ahead now.”
“It also helped us overcome losses in our roster and grow culturally,” he added. “Not to mention we got to play some really good volleyball.”
In his 11th season at the helm, Bertucci feels he has a group that is “two years away from being a mature team.”
Christina DeMarco, a sophomore, is the Owls’ most experienced returning player in terms of playing time.
Despite a stellar first season in which she totaled 153 kills, 41 digs and 45 blocks, DeMarco said she still hasn’t reached the peak of her learning curve.
“Being considered one of the most experienced players on the team is an honor,” DeMarco said. “I think that I have gotten better as a player since last year because having that one year of experience has made a world of difference.”
The Owls also return junior Stephanie Buynovsky, who redshirted last season. Bertucci said Buynovsky’s return gives the roster added depth.
True freshman Patricia Vernon will play alongside Buynovsky at the middle blocker position, which Bertucci feels was a weak area last season. The defense gets a boost with the addition of freshmen Katrina Mullins, who will pair with junior Yan Liu, a defensive specialist.
Bertucci said it will be difficult to replace Runk, though.
“Losing a setter is like a football team losing its quarterback,” he said. “She was our quarterback.”
Still, he said he is confident in the two players who take over Runk’s role.
“Linsey [Morningstar] and Maira [Mogollon] are very good, and they’ll need to be for us to win,” Bertucci said.
Currently, the Owls are 4-6 on the season, in their fourth week of competition. The Owls finished third in the A-10 last season behind champion Dayton and second-place Xavier, who they face at home Oct. 21.
Returning to help the team in their title chase are A-10 Rookie of the Year Yue Liu and senior captain Zhen Jai Liu.
The Owls, coming off a home shutout of Delaware, played four road matches at the Rutgers Invitational over the weekend, winning three straight after dropping their opener against the host Scarlet Knights. They face new A-10 rival Saint Louis on Friday.
Bertucci said the Billikens could be one of the top four teams in the A-10.
The Owls are looking forward to a competitive season, Bertucci said, and have set their sights on improving their weaknesses and not focusing on losses the losses from their roster.
Rather, Bertucci said, they’ll embracing the new challenges.
Danielle K. Milner can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.