The Penguins open the season Aug. 29 at the Florida Atlantic Tournament.
SPECIAL TO THE VINDICATOR
YOUNGSTOWN -- Youngstown State coach Joe Conroy does not like to use the phrase "a rebuilding year," but the 11th-year mentor finds himself in a precarious situation entering the 2002 volleyball season.
The main reason for his uncertainty is the fact the Penguins return just two starters from last season's squad -- the fewest returning starters for YSU since the 1996 season when the Penguins returned just one.
Although the Penguins lost four starters, including former Penguins Melissa Lyczkowski, Kristen Meech and Rebecca Sylak, Conroy, an eternal optimist, sees an abundance of talent in his youthful squad.
"I think whenever you lose quality players it affects your program," Conroy said. "But I believe we have loads of talent on this team and we will be very competitive."
New NCAA rule
Along with four new starters in the lineup, a new rule/player is being introduced to the collegiate game in 2002. The libero (pronounced "luh-BEAR-roe") is a designated back-row player who can replace any player in the back row without counting as a substitution. There is no limit to libero substitutions.
"The implementation of the libero will be very beneficial for us," Conroy said. "Not only will we be able to utilize one of our best passers more often, some of our front row players will have periods of rest during the match."
The new Penguin lineup will quickly become veteran with a challenging 2002 slate ahead of them. Conroy scheduled three NCAA Tournament participants and teams from the ACC, Big Ten and Big 12 to go along with YSU Horizon League slate. The Penguins, who open the season Aug. 29 at the Florida Atlantic Tournament, must also play their first 14 matches on the road.
After four outstanding seasons from Lyczkowski, YSU's all-time assists leader with 4,820, the reigns of the Penguins' offense will be in someone else's hands -- literally.
Lone returning setter
Junior Beth Boscarelli is the lone returning setter on the roster but will be joined by newcomer Angie Pasquinelli.
Untested but talented, Boscarelli averaged 1.38 assists per game last season, which was second on the team.
"Beth is really coming into her own as a player," Conroy said. "She has outstanding instinct and athletic ability and I am excited to see her in a leadership role on the court."
A solid defensive player, Boscarelli, a 2002 team captain, averaged 1.77 digs per game in 2001.
Pasquinelli, a 5-foot-6 freshman, was a second-team all-state selection as a senior and a two-time first-team all-district choice.
"Angie has the tools to be a great collegiate setter," Conroy said. "Coupled with Beth, we have two very athletic and talented setters who I think will drive each other to make the team better."
In years past, the composition of the Penguins' outside hitters have always been of experience, talent and depth. While the talent and depth at the position do not raise any concerns for Conroy, the experience level is not one he is accustomed to.
Junior Colleen Royer, one of YSU's two returning starters, is the only player with significant experience at the outside. Royer led the Penguins with 2.83 digs per game and finished second on the squad with 2.99 kills per game.
"Colleen is definitely going to be one of our top guns this season," Conroy said. "She has been working really hard in the off-season and keeps improving every time she steps on the court."
Joining Royer on the outside will be senior Cameran Drake, a 2002 team captain, sophomore Melanie Pounders and freshman Abby Ettenhofer. Drake and Pounders combined for 78 kills last season, while Ettenhofer was named her conference's player of the year as a senior.
Even though the Penguins must recoup the loss of all-time blocks leader and 1,000-kill club member Meech, Youngstown State should be solid in the middle.
Buschur returns to middle
Junior Annie Buschur, the second of two returning starters, heads the cast in the middle. The 6-foot native of New Weston, Ohio, was second on the team with 1.08 blocks per game and ranks 10th all-time with 197 career blocks in just two seasons.
Shoring up the middle is 6-foot-4 middle hitter Michele Batton, who is making the transition after three seasons at outside hitter. Batton, who earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman, set the school's freshman kills record with 358 during the 1999 season but has been hampered by injuries the last two years.
"I think the move to the middle will be an easy adjustment for Michele," Conroy said. "She came here as a middle and we moved her to the outside her first season. Michele has a lot of talent and her 6-foot-4 frame at the net will give opponents some trouble."
Freshman Katie Shea, from East Aurora, N.Y., will also see action in the middle. Shea was a two-time all-conference selection.
Another position that has an abundance of untapped talent and must recover from a loss to graduation is at the opposite or right side hitter. The Penguins must fill the void left when Sylak, who finished her career fourth on YSU's all-time kills chart with 1,096 kills, graduated. Penciled in the lineup are sophomore Lori Lyman and freshman Nickole Kennedy.
Lyman, who appeared in 26 matches last season, displayed outstanding defensive and serving skills with 105 digs and 31 aces.
Kennedy, a 6-foot-1 native of Sunbury, Ohio, was an Honorable Mention all-state and first-team all-district selection as a senior.
Senior Gabby Ferrell, who joined the program as a walk-on, senior Lena Arens and Drake are slated to see action at the new position.