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Young talent gives volleyball hope after rebuilding 2019 season

With finals approaching and the days getting shorter, it is obvious that fall sports have ended and the winter sports season is upon us. Ironically, Seton Hall’s one indoor fall sport, volleyball, finished its season the Sunday (Nov. 24) before thanksgiving on a high note, defeating the Georgetown Hoyas in Washington, D.C. The season-ending win capped off a rebuilding year for the Pirates, who finished 8-24, including 3-15 in conference play.

The warning signs that this would be a down season came early, as the team lost their first five non-conference matches, including straight set losses to Towson, Northern Arizona and LaSalle. It was immediately clear that the graduation of stalwarts Abby Thelen, Miranda Higginbotham, and Caitlin Koska left a massive scoring vacancy that would need a committee of players to fill. That committee proved to be senior Hayley Gasser and a plethora of younger players, including five freshmen, who provided bright spots in a season that included a run of 12 consecutive losses in Big East play.

Gasser had a solid season in her final campaign as a Pirate, recording a team-leading 333 kills and playing in 113 of the 114 sets in 2019. Hayley added 14 aces and 187 digs and her ability as a finisher spurred the Pirates fleeting successes this season, as she led the team in kills in all three conference wins, including 23 against Providence.

Photo via SHU Athletics

The team’s other two seniors, Madison Salkowski and Maggie Cvelbar, made contributions to the team that will be missed next year. Cvelbar finished 2019 with 751 assists, good for 7.2 per set, and Salkowski added 66 kills despite playing in only 57% of the sets played.

The loss of Gasser and Cvelbar’s setting is merely a minor setback, however. The amount of production coming back for 2020 tempers the sour taste left by 2019. Amanda Rachwal was second on the squad with 256 kills and led the team with 85 blocks and ideally she will spend her senior year dominating up front alongside Junior Emillee Turner, who stands at 6-foot-4. Elizabeth Sottung, the team leader with 31 aces, also returns in 2020 for her senior campaign.

While basketball had its Fab Five in the 1990s at Michigan, Seton Hall had its own version of the Fab Five in volleyball this year, as five freshmen played big roles. Julia Wilkins recorded 208 kills (third on the team). Reagan Hopp chipped in with 38 kills and 49 digs in only 20 sets played. Grace Rosenberg missed the middle portion of the season but recorded 252 assists in her sparse playing time, including 39 assists in a win over Binghamton on Sept. 7 and 32 in a triumph over Iona on Sept. 11. Reece Koehler recorded 163 kills and Raygan Murray emerged as a star at libero, finishing her initial campaign with 408 digs and playing in 105 of 114 sets, a stunning number for a freshman.

The combination of returning neophytes and Senior leaders like Rachwal and Sottung gives plenty of reasons for Coach Yaeger and pirate volleyball fans to be optimistic heading into 2020.

Matthew Collins can be reached at

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