Volleyball head coach Allison Yaeger knew that the task she would have this season with six incoming freshmen and the loss of five key seniors.
In 2014, when Seton Hall had a big incoming class and many players, it was faced with the same challenge. Then, the Pirates had some of the best players in program history like Tessa Fournier, All-American libero, Amanda Hansen, who made All-Big East teams and Dani Schroeder to guide the way for the underclassmen.
“When last year’s seniors were freshman we went through the same thing, we just had a couple more returners that were a bit more big-time,” Yaeger said. “Those three really played a huge role in 2014 with all of our success and did a good job leading that group. Even in that year, unfortunately, we didn’t make the playoffs. We went from taking second place the year before and making the NCAAs to taking fifth place because we were so inexperienced. This year is just more of learning experience.”
In the first tournament of the season, freshman outside hitter Julia Wilkins was ruled a DNP in all three matches. As soon as the Mason, Ohio native got healthy, she returned the next weekend to lead Seton Hall in kills with seven in the first match of the Seton Hall Classic and stuffed the stat sheet in game two with four kills two blocks and an ace.
“With [Wilkins], she sent me video footage of herself and I really like how she played,” Yaeger said. “I wanted to make sure that I went out and make sure I took at her, I believe I saw her at nationals a couple years back in Indianapolis. It was awesome and we get a lot of Midwest kids, the volleyball is outstanding in the Midwest – they start playing at a really young age.”
Yaeger played college volleyball for Central Michigan from 2002 to 2006 and comes from Wisconsin, as she makes the most of her connections in that area. One of Seton Hall’s assistant coaches, Simone Asque also hails from the region.
Another freshman who recently caught the injury bug is Reagan Hopp. Hopp was the most anticipated recruit in the class of 2023 for volleyball and was committed to Seton Hall since she was a sophomore in high school. The Carmel, Indiana native is slated to miss this weekend’s games with her injury.
“One of my teammates from college, her husband coached Reagan Hopp and told me I had to come check her out,” Yaeger said. “He said ‘You’re gonna love her’. The level she played at in club and high school and the ability to play with experience with all six rotations is a really big deal. It’s hard to find an outside hitter that is solid in all rotations and she is just that.”
Coach Yaeger’s ties to the Midwest has led the wave of recruits that have committed from there and will continue in the future. In the next two recruiting classes, two recruits are from Chicago and the two more from Milwaukee, where coach Yaeger is from, the following year.
At full health, the Pirates team does show a lot of youth in the lineup but Yaeger feels confident with her team in a 5-1 formation.
“I would have Grace [Rosenberg] setting in all six rotations,” Yaeger said. “Reagan Hopp would be our OH1, playing all rotations. Haylee [Gasser] on the right side, Julia [Wilkins] on the right side and we’re still trying to figure out if Raygan [Murray] or Eden [Dolezal] should take over that spot for now. We also really like Reece [Koehler] in the middle along with Amanda [Rachwal], I would prefer not to move her outside but sometimes the injuries leave us no choice. Even within that lineup you can see that it’s almost entirely freshman.”
The best part about this, Yaeger says, is that her girls will be seniors one day. She believes the group can be phenomenal in four years but, they have to get going with it.
“This a great group of kids, I love them very, very much and they just have a lot to learn and experience,” Yaeger said. “Big East is going to be here before we know it, and they’ll have to learn then because we open with Marquette, who is really good right now to say the least.
Evando Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @ethmps.