The Youngstown State coach is looking for leadership after a 1-13 Horizon League season.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Joe Conroy has spent 33 years as a volleyball player and coach, but even he wasn't prepared for Youngstown State's 2001 season.
The Penguins, competing in the Horizon League for the first time after 10 seasons in the Mid-Continent Conference, finished in last place with a 1-13 record.
"We jumped from the 30th-ranked conference [out of 32] to the country's 12th-ranked conference and it was a major step to an upper level volleyball conference," Conroy said.
Conroy decided that he needed to recruit a higher caliber of player if the Penguins were to be a contender in the new league.
So Conroy and assistant coach Andrea Jackson found four talented prospects for next season. It's a group Conroy feels is the best he's seen in the 16 years he's been at YSU.
Heading the list is 6-foot-2 middle hitter Katie Shea of East Aurora, N.Y., who was recruited by many of the top 50 volleyball schools in the country, including the University of Oregon.
"She's an outstanding athlete who can play anywhere on the front line," said Conroy.
He also signed 6-1 middle hitter/outside hitter Abby Ettenhofer of Hebron and 6-1 right side hitter Nikole Kennedy of Sunbury, who was named honorable mention All-Ohio last season.
Those three joined Angie Pasquinelli of Toledo, who signed last November during the early signing period.
"In the 16 years that I've been here, as far as size and athletic ability, this is one of the best recruiting classes we've ever had," Conroy said.
Conroy, who has a career record of 160-141, said he was disappointed in the Penguins' last place finish, but injuries played a big part of the struggle.
"Next season we've set our goal of getting into the top five in the league," he said. "I learned a long time ago from Jim Tressel that you should never set unreachable goals and I've always followed that advice."
Conroy loses four starters from last year's team, but he feels a good nucleus returns, with the addition of the four recruits expected to contribute immediately.
"We played in three tournaments this spring and we've installed an entirely new offense. The kids struggled through the first tournament, but by the second one I could see the improvement," he said.
"Before our setters used to make all the calls, but now the hitters do it and we moved several players into new positions and it takes time to adjust."
Two returning starters are junior middle hitter Anne Beschur of St. Henry and junior outside hitter Colleen Royer of Cleveland.
He also has two regulars playing in different positions: sophomore Lori Lyman of Conneaut Lake, Pa., who moved from middle to opposite hitter, and sophomore Melanie Pounders of Midview, who moved from middle to outside.
His setter is junior Beth Boscarelli of St. Joe Academy.
Conroy said the new 30-point scoring system in volleyball, compared to the old 15-point system, adds a new risk to the game.
"Before if you gambled and lost it only cost you the serve, but now it costs you a point," he said. "Although it does help out on the serve, since balls that hit the net and carry over the net count as points, where before they didn't."
Conroy is proud that his team carries the highest overall grade point average of any team at YSU.
"And all of the new girls coming into the program are excellent students also," he said.