Women’s volleyball stays ready for new season


Alex Pepke, Sports Editor

Gannon University’s women’s volleyball team, much like every other traditional fall sport, has a unique season on the horizon.
The Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) has moved all fall seasons and championships to the spring.
The Knights will be playing in a different time of year, but they hope that’s one of the only changes for them for this upcoming season.
Gannon has been a force in the PSAC for a decade now. The Knights had 30 or more wins in each of the past four years, while appearing in the NCAA tournament every year since 2009.
Last year was no different, as they went 30-7 (17-1 in the PSAC) and made it all the way to the NCAA Elite Eight before having their season come to an end.
They have lost some notable players such as Ally Smith (2019 first team All-PSAC) and Toni Leitshuh (2019 third team All-PSAC), but they bring back a large chunk of their exceptional roster from a year ago.
This year’s roster features three Ashleys, each of whom made an All-PSAC team in 2019.
Ashley Beyers (2019 All-PSAC first team), Ashley Kerestes (2019 All-PSAC first team) and Ashley McClung (2019 All-PSAC third team) return along with Lauren Sampson (2019 second team All-PSAC) to star on a team that will have high expectations once again.
Last year’s version of the Knights led the PSAC in kills (1,806) and assists (1,659) and was fifth and seventh in those categories in the entire NCAA Division II.
While the players must move on from the team eventually, there has been one constant from each team in the past decade or so.
That’s the coach, Matt Darling.
Darling is the winningest head coach in the history of Gannon’s volleyball program.
His all-time record of 302-125 places him among the top-35 active winningest coaches in NCAA Division II.
Darling, who also is an assistant professor in the English department, said that right now he is just focused on this group improving.
“We still don’t know when and how much we’ll play, so what we’re doing right now is not so much preparing for the season as it is trying to get better at being a volleyball team,” he said.
“With so much uncertainty still surrounding everything, we’re mostly trying to build our skill set and develop behaviors that, if we do have a season, we think will help us.”
The Knights’ coach also knows that this year is going to be unlike any other year. With that being said, he is keeping his team prepared for action.
“We’re doing what we can to be as good as we can in the practice gym, and, if and when we are given the opportunity to play somebody, we’ll try to use what we’ve learned in practice to have a great performance in competition,” he said.
Darling said that right now, the team just wants to compete.
“I’m looking forward to hearing that first whistle to signal the first serve of the first match we are able to play,” he said.  “I think that’s what we’re all looking forward to:  we want desperately to get back on the court in competition.”
Darling’s team has not lost a regular season home game since Oct. 28, 2017, when the Knights lost to East Stroudsburg. They will look to continue that streak this spring, although exactly when they’ll start has yet to be determined.
PSAC Commissioner Steve Murray said earlier this month that the conference would be releasing details on the fall-to-winter sports schedules sometime in October.
It’s expected that no PSAC matches or games will be played before mid-January.

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