Injuries have hurt YSU volleyball team

By Greg Gulas


Heading into this season, his fifth at the helm, Youngstown State women’s volleyball coach Mark Hardaway wanted an early season challenge for his team so he scheduled ranked opponents prior to the start of Horizon League play.

It’s just that he was hoping to be at full strength when they met.

Addressing the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly meeting at Avion Banquet Center, Hardaway said the challenge on the court has been there, but unexpected injuries in the early going have yielded his team less than full strength heading into the Penguins’ opening weekend of league play.

The Penguins will open conference play this weekend at home against the preseason’s top two teams, Oakland and Cleveland State.

“It has been a rough year for us thus far injury-wise. We didn’t have depth at a few positions going into the season and with those players now sidelined, we haven’t been able to do some of the things we had hoped,” Hardaway said. “What we thought and planned on doing heading into the season isn’t there right now.”

The Penguins (6-8) are coming off a tough weekend at the University of Dayton Flyer Classic where they fell to No. 26 host Dayton, Southern Illinois and a team that has been ranked all season long but fell out of the rankings last week, Classic champion Loyola-Marymount.

“Dayton had a lot of size and it was tough to keep them out of system. We just didn’t pass well enough to win,” Hardaway said.

“Southern Illinois was picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference preseason poll and we served and passed better against the other two teams. Against Loyola-Marymount, we passed really well and definitely had the challenge that we wanted in order to get ready for our league competition. They were a Sweet 16 participant a year ago.”

As league play approaches, Hardaway said that the focus will now be more on his team as opposed to the Penguins’ opponents.

“We’re smaller than we wanted to be, yet when we pass well and are in a system, then we can hang with anyone,” he said. “This is almost a contradiction, but we want them to play aggressively while keeping errors to a minimum. We’ll also need to serve well.”

Two seniors, middle blocker Lori Vanbeek and setter Val Jeffery, have been the team’s mainstays and leaders thus far.

“We’ve asked Lori to carry a big load right now. She’s our leading hitter and blocker and teams will focus on her, so she’ll need to step it up, which she has,” Hardaway said. “Val has done a great job of directing our offense and we’ve also asked a lot from her, but she too, will need to step it up by directing balls to those for kills and simply mixing it up. I feel bad for them because this is their last time around and injuries have disrupted our season.”

Jeffery, Sam Brown and Gabriella Strazzeri are team captains.

“In addition to Val, Sam Brown is an outside hitter who has done an excellent job while we are awaiting an appeal from the NCAA on Gabriella. Her not being able to play has also hurt us,” Hardaway said.

Local product Aleah Hughes, a defensive specialist-outside hitter from Western Reserve High School, has been a pleasant surprise.

“Aleah was valedictorian of her graduating class and has played well filling in Gabriella. She had her nose shattered, however, in a freak accident when one of our players caught her with an elbow at the Akron Tournament two weekends ago,” Hardaway said. “She had surgery last Friday and has also been lost to injury.”

Academically, Hardaway’s team sports a 3.42 cumulative grade-point average, one of the school’s top team marks with several players earning Horizon League All-Academic honors each year during his reign.

Next week, Mark Porter of Scouting Ohio is scheduled as the Curbstone Coaches’ guest speaker.

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