Postseason absence doesn’t dampen Pirates’ milestone-filled season
After three months of drama and excitement, the Seton Hall volleyball team finished with a 16-15 overall record and 10-8 in the Big East. The Pirates finished fifth in the conference, meaning that unlike last season, they missed the Big East tournament, which features the top four teams in the conference.
However, numbers and the final position in the standings does not tell the story of their season.
The Pirates played hard from start to finish, consistently being in the mix for a bid to the Big East Tournament. They bounced in and out of the top four spots all the way until the regular season’s final weekend on Nov. 17, where they dropped their final two contests.
Despite missing out on the postseason, the Pirates surpassed expectations again this season, turning an eighth-place preseason poll projection in the Big East into a fifth-place finish.
“It’s nice that we were fighting for something for the most of the season,” coach Allison Yaeger said. “We were in the mix and fighting until the very last second of our season. It’s great to have the fight in us, but unfortunately things didn’t go as we planned for them. But there were so many good things that came out of this season.”
Seton Hall began its season in thrilling fashion with a five-set victory over the University of Oklahoma on Aug. 25 in the Oklahoma Invitational. The Pirates went 2-1 in that weekend tournament before returning home for the Seton Hall Classic, held on Labor Day Weekend.
The Pirates wound up defeating both Rutgers and the University of Buffalo to become the lone team in the classic to win both its matches. Sharay Barnes, Abby Thelen and Sophia Coffey were named to the All-Tournament team.
“Non-conference play taught us a lot,” Yaeger said. “I scheduled hard this year. I knew we would have a good team this year and sometimes that harder schedule helped us, but at times it also hurt us; we had a few five-set losses that really could have went either way.”
The Pirates made their mark when they began conference play, as through the first half of the Big East schedule the blue and white went 6-3, with Walsh Gym treating them to a 4-1 record in their first five home games.
The season did not end as planned for the Hall who lost four of their final six games and were unable to squeeze into the postseason for a third time in four seasons. Seton Hall did, however, reach double-digit wins in conference for the second straight season, and the third time in program history.
The season culminated in several other milestones and accomplishments. Thelen was named to the All-Big East First Team, as the junior established herself as the Hall’s primary option on offense with a career-high 430 kills. This season also marked the end of three players’ careers at Seton Hall, with Barnes, Dominique Mason, and Sarah Kenneweg all receiving their honors at Senior Night on Nov. 18. Kenneweg was the only senior to play all four collegiate seasons, and experienced a “very special moment” against DePaul on Oct. 27 when she recorded her 1,000th-career dig. The libero finished her career with 1,109 digs, which is the eighth-most in program history.
Mason played two seasons with the Pirates, after transferring into the program as a junior, while Barnes played just one as a graduate transfer.
As the team looks forward to next season, the Pirates will be returning the bulk of its experience, including Thelen and Coffey. Mason mentioned sophomore setter Maggie Cvelbar as a player who came into her own this year and really improved.
“She was more outspoken this year and took charge of what she wanted to do on the court,” Mason said. “She has tough skin and the heat she would get from playing at her position, I think she took it very well.”
Once the new season comes, this group filled, with experience and led by Yaeger, who is entering her eighth year at the head coach, will be ready to return to take on the challenges that lie ahead in 2018.
Matt Lamb can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MattS_Lamb.