The Seton Hall volleyball team faced a tough road heading into the 2017 season, having lost the graduated the duo of libero Tessa Fournier and outside hitter Danielle Schroeder. But, after starting the season 4-2 it is clear this Pirates team is ready for the challenge.
“Dani and Tessa brought a lot to this program,” head coach Allison Yaeger said. “They were kind of a one-two punch for the last couple of years. Losing them is a really big deal, but I think we have been prepared for this for a long time.”
Despite the absence of two stars, the Pirates are off to their best start since 2014. Yaeger said she believes that the team’s experience is the key factor in its early success.
“Dani and Tessa are gone, but we’re finally old,” Yaeger said. “That big sophomore class we had last year, they’re all finally juniors and a lot of them play significant roles in this team.”
Two of those juniors are already making a big mark on the court – middle blocker Abby Thelen and setter Sophia Coffey. Thelen is leading the team with 94 kills while Coffey is the Hall’s leader in assists with 140.
Thelen attributes her early success to a focused effort on becoming more consistent for her teammates.
“I want to be someone they can look to and, no matter if I get blocked or shank a pass, I’m going to be consistent and get the next ball,” Thelen said.
Yaeger has had praise for the performances of both Thelen and Coffey.
“Abby has really stepped up as a player, and Sophia more than anything has really stepped up as a leader,” Yaeger said. “She’s a captain this year as only a junior, and she runs the court really well.”
Another upperclassman making an impact is senior Sarah Kenneweg, who has taken over Fournier’s role as the libero. She already has 95 digs on the season.
“Sarah Kenneweg has been awesome,” Thelen said. “Her digs have been really good and she’s been covering really well.”
A second player in her final season is proving to be a difference maker for the Pirates as well – graduate student Sharay Barnes. Barnes transferred from Kentucky and has already become a captain and one of the driving forces of the team.
“It’s different coming from a power five conference where everything is bigger, stronger, faster, and harder,” Yaeger said. “She’s adjusted really well. The girls really look up to her just based on experience alone. She’s 23 and we have some freshmen who are 17 years old, so she comes with a lot of good things to bring to this program.”
While certain players have stepped up on the court and in the locker room, the squad is still focusing to improve its overall communication and chemistry.
“This season we are really focusing on connecting as a team and having one unit on the court,” Kenneweg said. “During preseason, we really focused on being loud and being together on and off the court.”
“Most of us have been here since July, so we’ve been able to get to know each other really well,” Coffey said. “Last year we did have good chemistry, but this year I think it’s going to be even better.”
The Pirates are off to a promising start and by putting an emphasis on communication, and they will look to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since the 2014 season. Yaeger believes there is a strong chance the Pirates return.
“Our bigger goal this year is to make the NCAA Tournament,” Yaeger said. “We would love nothing more than a 2014 repeat season, and I think this is the year to do it.”
Matt Lapolla can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @MatthewLapolla.