On the afternoon of Sept. 5, classes were in full swing, students were strolling the Green and the volleyball team was working tirelessly before it hit the road for a game at Princeton the next day. In the final minutes of an afternoon practice in Walsh Gymnasium, the team finished the day with a first-to-15 scrimmage. [caption id="attachment_19572" align="aligncenter" width="838"] Photo via Sarah Yenesel/Asst. Photography Editor[/caption] Despite this set being part of a practice, the girls still played with the same relentlessness that resembled the fifth set against Buffalo four days prior; a back-and-forth battle that resulted in a Pirates win. With the hustle and grit they displayed in the quick, but intense set, one could have easily thought they were playing in the Big East tournament. The goal to make it that far has been expressed by head coach Allison Yaeger and the team’s strong start to the season is a testament of how far it has come since starting last season with an 0-4 record. This season, the Pirates are 6-4, with personal best performances and room for improvement as the entire season and Big East play gets set to begin. “What’s led to a lot of our success right now is our outside hitters, Abby [Thelen] and Dom [Mason],” Yaeger said. “They’ve really come through.” Thelen set career bests with 24 kills and 21 digs against Buffalo on Sept. 1 in the Hall’s home opener. She notched another 22 kills on Sept. 9 against Illinois State. Mason was named to the All Tournament Team at the Oklahoma Invitational on Aug. 26 along with Thelen and ranks third on the team in kills. “I have high expectations for Dominique this year,” Yaeger said. “She wants to be an all-conference player and if she keeps going the way she’s going, I think she’ll get it.” With the integral role that Mason plays on this team, it’s difficult to imagine the Pirates without her. She was part of Hillsborough Community College’s volleyball team before joining the Pirates for their 2016 campaign. “Being a transfer isn’t easy and they welcomed me and molded me into be the player that I am,” Mason said. Yaeger also said she attributes this early success to the team’s strategy of “running a six-two,” which entails having six hitters and two setters instead of a traditional “five-one” with five hitters and one setter. In addition to Thelen and Mason, Yaeger said that many players have taken on leadership roles and the younger girls on the team are looking up to the upperclassmen. Mason said maturity is something that is a strong point on this squad “since we have juniors and seniors now so whenever we get down we just push through and work really hard.” The team is comprised of 14 players: three freshmen, three sophomores, five juniors, two seniors and one graduate student. The Hall’s head coach said she now considers her squad to be a veteran team. On Saturday, Sept. 2, Yaeger had all 14 girls see action in a hard fought battle against Rutgers at Walsh Gym. “For the first time this year we have a lot of depth on the team,” Yaeger said. She said that following the win against the Scarlet Knights, “we actually had a talk with the girls” on “if you’re not doing your job, you’re out and then the next person’s in.” Yaeger added that “[they] don’t have time to waste on if people are making errors or not making digs or not doing what they’re supposed to be doing out on the court” as preseason is to figure out what is and isn’t working. With about two months remaining in the season, Yaeger said the team is using its time now “to figure out the holes and bumps in the road before we get to Big East play.” Mason said that the team’s goal is to make it to the NCAA Tournament. “We’re working hard, practicing every day with that big goal in our minds to play hard and to go as far as possible,” Mason said. “We’re just looking to go up from here,” Yaeger said. “I think if we can look like this now, I’m excited to see what we’re going to do.” Andrea Keppler can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @keppler_andrea.
Accountability, maturity key as volleyball seeks NCAA berth