Youth playing key role for YSU volleyball team
Volleyball team is using three freshmen in competitive league
By Greg Gulas
Heading into this year’s volleyball season, Youngstown State head coach Mark Hardaway knew he needed to be patient because three freshmen would be in his starting line-up.
Speaking to the Curbstone Coaches Monday at Avion Banquet Center, Hardaway said the Horizon League has gained respectability while increasing its visibility in the six seasons since he took charge.
“When I came to YSU, the Horizon League’s RPI was ranked 23rd out of 30 Division I conferences,” he said. “Today, we are ranked 12th.
“Our conference is always a challenge, but more so this year because the bottom teams are no longer cellar dwellers,” he said. “Our league is ranked ahead of the Mid-American Conference, Conference USA and the Missouri Valley Conference with the MVC a league that has sent multiple teams to the NCAA postseason tournament the last several seasons.
“That should tell you how competitive our league has gotten.”
Upsets in the league have become the norm.
“Cleveland State was the preseason pick to win our league, but is currently second to Wisconsin-Green Bay in the standings after being upset by Wright State last weekend,” Hardaway said.
Friday, the Penguins will host Cleveland State.
“After watching film on the Vikings, we’ll need to be at our very best because they are pretty darn good,” Hardaway said.
The three freshmen seeing considerable playing time are setter Libbie Darling and outside hitters Marketa Plesingrova and Margaux Thompson.
“We run a 6-2 offense and all three players carry a big load,” Hardaway said. “Margaux is the sixth rotation on every passing pattern and while we’re not excited about our start, everyone continues to work hard and get better.
Former Penguin netter Val Jeffery, who is completing her nursing degree, accompanied Hardaway. In August, she was the first Penguin volleyball player to earn a Team USA roster slot for the World University Games.
“We’ve taken players to these tryouts the past several summers and all have done really well,” Hardaway said. “Val was an alternate her first year and actually played on the college team that accompanied Team USA, gaining plenty of experience as a setter and getting used to international travel when they played in China.”
Jeffery competed with the team in Taipei, playing sparingly the first two games before earning a starting assignment the last three contests.
She tore her ACL near the end of the tournament, but will not have surgery until Christmas break.
The former team captain said her experience at the World University Games was something she won’t forget.
“Coach Hardaway gave me a lot of autonomy with the team and offense and that really helped me grow as a leader,” Jeffery said.