Out with the old, in with the new.
The Seton Hall volleyball team lost four starters this season, but a huge class of seven freshmen is ready to take the reins.
After such a successful campaign in 2014-15, the newcomers have some serious shoes to fill. Led by Stacey and Shelbey Manthorpe, the Pirates went 28-8 and 15-3 in the Big East, which was the second-best record in the conference.
The team also made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and coach Allie Yaeger took home Big East Coach of the Year honors.
This season, though, Seton Hall is projected to finish sixth in the conference. The players and coaches themselves still have high hopes.
“We have a very good balance between the upperclassmen who have been there and done that, and have experienced success,” Yaeger said. “And then we have the underclassmen, who want to achieve that. They’ve seen that, that’s what we’ve done in the past. They work really hard.”
The Hall got off to a rough start in its first weekend and took a pair of three-set losses to Nebraska-Omaha and UNLV.
While the Pirates still managed a 3-2 win against Central Arkansas, it was still far from an ideal beginning.
“Our first weekend was not so hot,” Yaeger said. “Our first weekend really showed how young we are, and I’d say that was our weakness. But we are starting to really gel together as a team, and I think that came out this last weekend.”
This past weekend, SHU looked dominant. The team won the Seton Hall Classic by whooping up on Notre Dame (3-0), outlasting Hofra (3-2) and then dropping the hammer on Temple (3-0).
Freshmen Grace Forren and Cherise Hennigan played well beyond their years.
“It was really exciting. … The team played awesome this weekend,” Forren, who was named Big East Freshman of the Week, said. “It was the first time we came together as a unit and really played together.”
When asked about team leadership, both Hennigan and Yaeger pointed immediately the junior Tessa Fournier.
“They’re very helpful,” Hennigan said, speaking on both Fournier and senior Sara Connell. “They talk to us constantly, they want the best for the team and you can tell that they take on those leadership roles and do a really good job at it.”
It wasn’t easy for Hennigan and other freshmen at first, but the team has really embraced them.
“We came in terrified and wide-eyed,” Hennigan said. “… We’re working hard, but it’s nice because the older girls are very welcoming with open arms. They just want us to do well. They’re really helping us and supporting us.”
Fournier has gone from a sophomore on a veteran team to a junior on a young roster, so her transition to one of the team’s captains has been noteworthy.
“It’s been very different,” she said. “We have a lot of younger players. So I’m just trying to set an example for them. They didn’t know their roles [right away], so I’ve been focusing on kind of getting them into that and helping them play in a D1 atmosphere.”
She’s made an impact on more than the younger players, too. Fournier’s coach has been impressed.
“Tessa has embraced the role [of captain] really well,” Yaeger said. “She is a totally different person than when we first had her as a freshman. She has developed so well as just a good volleyball player and a good voice on the court. We’ve told her from Day 1 that we were molding her into becoming a captain of this program.”
The Pirates are hitting the road this weekend with a slate of difficult games at the Louisville Invitational. They will play the host as well as Utah and Ohio, a team that is very similar to Seton Hall.
The Bobcats also have seven freshman, and the team is a pretty powerful force. Earlier in the season, Ohio upset Kentucky, which was ranked No. 10 in the nation at the time.
“We’re excited to play Ohio,” Yaeger said. “… They’re good, scrappy, physical, block well and can put a ball away. And that’s exactly what we can do.”
The season is still young – like her team – but Yaeger has lofty expectations for both.
“This weekend we’ll see where we stand,” she said. “If we want to be the big dogs, we have to play the big dogs.”
Thomas Duffy can be reached at Thomas.firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @TJDhoops.