The women’s volleyball team is looking to bounce back from their season-opening tournament in St. Louis, Missouri this past weekend with four upcoming home matches at the Hammermill on Friday and Saturday.
The Lady Knights went 0-4 this past weekend against teams that head coach Matt Darling said were stiff competition, including host school University of Missouri-St. Louis, who has already received votes in the American Volleyball Coaches Association preseason poll.
According to Darling, the losses were not due to a lack of success on the offensive end of the game. Specifically, he noted that the middle attack was exceptionally strong. However, the ability to utilize the middles relies on solid defense and serve receive passing, which Darling said was the team’s weakest point.
“Once our passing stabilizes, we will be able to go to the middles more and see an even distribution on offense,” Darling said. “We won’t be relying as heavily on the outside hitters.”
They certainly relied on junior outside hitter Lauren Sazama this past weekend, and she met the challenge with a dominating performance on both offense and defense. She led the team in both areas, racking up 48 digs and 39 kills in four matches.
Darling said he believes that Sazama’s all-around game could rival that of any other player in the conference, and that she and senior middle hitter Claren Harris have both shown that they are key component’s to the team’s success.
Harris had an outstanding weekend at middle, accumulating 15 blocks and 20 kills. She finished with an average of 1.3 blocks per set, and her hitting percentage was .275.
“Statistically and emotionally she was a bright spot,” Darling said.
Harris said she feels the team has definitely matured and is ready to make a run at a conference title. She said they have gotten better at hitting different shots and knowing what is going to be open, and she is ready to give her senior year everything she has.
With three juniors and five seniors, the team is an experienced one. Harris said she knows that other teams will expect them to be a strong opponent, and that they will be ready.
“We won’t be able to sneak up on anybody this year because they know we’re going to come out attacking hard,” she said. “This is my last year. I’m going all out, all the time.”
The team will look to draw from talent at opposite ends of the spectrum, relying on both the returners as well as integrating six freshmen into the dynamic.
Darling is expecting big things from his freshmen; several have already seen court time in these first four matches of the season. He said he sees the gap between the freshmen and the veterans slowly beginning to close. Freshman hitter Maggie Desrosiers, who Darling said played solidly this past weekend, has been adapting well to the new system.
“I was prepared for the speed of the game, but there are also lots of little issues with technique to get used to,” Desrosiers said. “Especially with passing. Form is so important, down to the slightest angle of your arms.”
Darling said the tough matches in St. Louis did their job of exposing areas of weakness and served as good experience. Moving forward, he hopes and expects to get some wins this weekend, with games against Pitt-Johnstown and West Virginia Wesleyan at 4 p.m. and 8 p.m. Friday and games against Seton Hill and Alderson-Broaddus at noon and 4 p.m.
“Person for person we’ll match up well,” he said. “It’s going to be a matter of execution.”