In a competitive Big East volleyball conference, it’s not easy for a Seton Hall team of mostly freshmen and sophomores to measure up to the powerhouses of the Big East. But, after 17 games, four of which are conference games, the Pirates are doing exactly that.
After losing the first four games of the season, fifth-year head coach Allison Yaeger has helped guide the team to a 9-4 record in their last 13 games, with SHU’s last two wins coming against two conferenc foes in Butler and heavyweight Xavier.
While that’s impressive in its own right, what makes the turnaround truly impressive is the roster that Seton Hall is doing it with. The only upperclassmen getting regular minutes are outside hitter Danielle Schroeder, defensive specialist Sarah Kenneweg and libero Tessa Fournier.
The rest of the rotation, including almost the entire attack, are freshmen and sophomores. They account for eight of the 11 players getting regular minutes every night, and they’re making a big impact in each of the Pirates matches.
Schroeder leads the Pirates with 3.05 kills per set and 189 kills this season, but sophomore Cherise Hennigan is right behind her with 173. Hennigan played a big role in Seton Hall’s five-set win over Butler on Sept. 23, recording a career-high 23 kills along with a .364 attacking percentage. She dominated the decisive fifth set with six kills.
Abby Thelen, a sophomore, has shown her versatility as a go-to attacking force for the Pirates. After Amanda Hansen graduated last year, Yaeger brought in two freshman middle blockers in Haylee Gasser and Madison Salkowski. Both are starting and provide defensive stability and secondary attacking options on the court.
Thelen, a middle blocker last year, was riding the bench at first while Yaeger figured out her ideal rotation. Recently, Thelen has switched to outside hitter, a position where Seton Hall is lacking at depth behind Schroeder. Thelen has flourished there.
She led the Pirates to an upset win over Xavier on Sept. 24 when she recorded a team-high 17 kills to go along with her seven digs. Thelen allows for the team to have another strong attacking option besides Schroeder, and has even started turning into a solid defensive player as well. Thelen’s 125 kills and 2.60 kills per set are good for third on the team.
Sophia Coffey is the team’s main setter, with Yaeger giving her all of the minutes in a single setter rotation. Coffey has 437 assists this season, but also has done very well defensively (143 digs), while picking up 37 kills as well. Freshman Maggie Cvelbar is the backup/secondary setter and has 211 assists this season.
The Pirates are young, but that’s not stopping them from standing toe-to-toe with some of the powerhouses in the Big East conference. Yaeger has just enough veteran leadership coupled with youthful enthusiasm and talent throughout the roster to make the Pirates a sleeper pick this season.
Bobby Bevilacqua can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @rpb725.