Big shoes to fill: Fournier flourishing as Pirates new libero
Even in her freshman season, the pressure of a waiting game was on Tessa Fournier. While Big East Libero of the Year Alyssa Warren breaking Seton Hall’s all-time digs record was a pinnacle moment last season, it only increased the size of the hole at libero for the 2014 campaign. That’s a lot of pressure riding on a second-year player. But Fournier’s been gearing up for the takeover at the position for a long time.
“Tessa knew that she had big shoes to fill once Alyssa was graduating,” third-year head coach Allison Yaeger said. “She came back a month earlier than everyone else did, and she’s done a great job. She’s such a coachable player.”
While she is just a second-year player, Fournier has a plethora of experience after playing in all 125 sets in SHU’s 31 matches last season in the back line. She ranked fourth on the team with 322 digs and 2.58 per set.
“This has been long-awaited,” the sophomore said. Fournier worked over the summer on the beach near her home in California before her early individual gyms at SHU prior to preseason.
“We knew that recruiting Tessa last year was great from the start,” Yaeger said. “To have her take a year to learn from Alyssa [Warren] and our coaching staff. The transition to the Big East can be very hard. She did such a nice job in transitioning to the college level.”
Fournier helped the Pirates salvage two out of three matches at the Hurricane Invitational last weekend, tallying 47 digs (3.92 per set). She had some nice assistance as well, with Warren present at Miami during the weekend offering advice. Warren is currently attending grad school at Florida Atlantic University. “I could talk to her after the matches and it was really nice to have her there to see what I could do better,” Fournier said. “Alyssa reached out to me during the summer and said if I needed anything that she would help. It’s been so nice to have that.”
The weight is not all on Fournier, though, as SHU returns six starters from a year ago. While last year’s team finished 16-15 and fifth in the Big East, the Pirates won four of their final five matches. Though the blue and white dropped the season opener to a Miami program that went to the NCAA Tournament, the veteran leadership was displayed in the final two games of the tournament. “This is a senior class that has not seen the Big East Tournament since they were freshmen,” Yaeger said. “I’ve never had a team so determined and so competitive with each other. This team also gets along really well.”
Chemistry starts with sisterhood at the top, as Shelbey and Stacey Manthorpe enter their senior campaigns as the engine that runs The Hall’s offense. It was Shelbey, who led the nation with 10 triple-doubles last season and had her first of the season. Stacey tallied a near double-double in a 3-2 come-from-behind win over Florida Gulf Coast on Saturday. From there, the Pirates had everything and more to dominate Florida A&M, 3-1, as Yaeger was impressed with front-line standout Ashani Rubin, who tallied a team-high seven blocks.
“Miami was actually our best-played game,” Yaeger said. “At the end of that match, I said to the girls, ‘If this is what we’re going to look like, I’m good.’”
The Pirates will open a jam-packed weekend at Walsh Gym, a place that they will play seven additional home matches at this season. The first of two invitationals in South Orange kicks off on Friday at noon as the Pirates host the Seton Hall Invitational. Cornell will be the first of four opponents slated for The Hall with two matches on Friday and two on Saturday. Siena, Rutgers, and UNLV are the remaining three in the nine-match tournament.
Action opens on Friday at noon against the Bears.
John Fanta can be reached at email@example.com or on twitter @John_Fanta.