Fall preview – Volleyball goes for A-10 Championship

The time is now for the GW volleyball team. After falling just short of upsetting top-ranked Temple in the Atlantic 10 Tournament last November, the Colonials find themselves a much different and deeper team than they were one year ago. Both on and off the court, the volleyball team has become more unified and more determined, because this season GW ranks among the elite in the A-10.

We’re a very good team, we know each other and we know how to communicate, tri-captain Renee Arnold said.

But the death of coach Yvette Moorehead last month during the team’s preseason was a great shock and potential setback for the players, staff and entire GW community. Coming just weeks before the team’s season-opener, the 14-player team had to find a way to continue on. And they did, as a team.

There’s definitely a higher inspiration, interim coach Jojit Coronel said. If anything, the death of Yvette accelerated the progress of this team. They’re a closer team now then they were then.

There is no doubt expectations are high for Coronel’s team. The nucleus of GW’s five returning starting seniors make the Colonials a feared team in the A-10. At the heart of this team is senior setter Jill Levey. Fully recovered from a left foot injury last season, Levey returns with the third-highest assist totals in school history. Levey is a tri-captain along with fellow seniors Arnold and Suzana Manole.

In a team vote held at the beginning of the season, the team chose their three captains because of their presence and leadership qualities.

Jill and Suzana are very vocal on the court, Coronel said. Renee has been very vocal with the freshman.

These players have also spoken volumes on the court. Arnold emerged last season with the second-highest attack percentage on the team behind graduated senior Gabriela Mojska. Arnold, who had 238 kills last season, will be looking to dominant the antennas – the outside part of the net.

The game is won at the antenna, Coronel said.

With Suzana Manole, the team is getting nothing less than fierce intensity and desire. Manole has been known to dance a little on the court during matches and has no problem speaking her mind to the team. Manole’s positive attitude and hard effort on the court – more than 700 kills and 1,100 assists in three seasons – make her a dominant presence.

Coronel said with the exception of defending A-10 champion Temple, the Colonials are the strongest offensive team in the conference. The rise of senior Tracee Brown will make up for the loss of Mojska.

Gabi (Mojska) was initially a big loss, Coronel said. But Tracee (Brown) stepped up and Abby (Ernst) is playing middle. She’s taken up that role really well.

Brown managed 242 kills last season and committed only 74 kills in 98 games played. With Arnold, Brown and freshman outside hitter Ruth Lazzari looking to be the sixth starter, the Colonials have the athleticism and talent needed to compete at the net with the likes of Temple and Dayton.

The responsibility for patrolling the front of the net is that of middle blocker Julie Jahnke. The 6-2 senior led the team with 124 block assists last season and has picked up her offensive game in the early going. Jahnke is joined by 6-2 teammate Abby Ernst in the middle. Ernst reached a career-high in kills with nine earlier in the season and will see more playing time than last year.

We have the guns on the team this year, Coronel said. Not that we didn’t have them last year, but we’re so much better this season.

With the core of five seniors leading the way for GW, the bench help will come from the team’s sixth senior, walk-on Adrianna Gucciardi, junior walk-on Shannon Farley and the team’s six freshman. Coronel said Gucciardi has been a good role model during practices. Farley, who played in only three games last year, will see extended playing time over last year. As the team’s only junior, Farley will carry the leadership responsibilities when this year’s senior squad graduates.

Lazzari is the key freshman for the Colonials and a player who could be a captain in due time, according to the interim coach.

For Ruth (Lazzari), her role is to be a ball-control player, Coronel said. For the future, she’s definitely setting a good foundation for our team in the years to come.

The team’s other freshman are Lauren Dunning, Mandy Mereness, Sarah Hokum, Lindsay Ochs and Laura Harrison. Dunning and Mereness are both setters, which provides strong backup for Levey, Coronel said. The 6-2 Ochs gives the Colonials additional height in the middle, while Hokum and Harrison increase the team’s depth at the outside-hitter position. Hokum said practice scrimmages pitting the freshmen against the starting team have helped the freshman develop their skills at a faster pace.

There is little doubt the Colonials will make the A-10 Tournament for the second straight year. That means the keys to the regular season will be staying healthy and finding ways to win close matches.

I think our toughest challenge will be mentally against Temple, Coronel said.

Coronel’s team will face the Owls Wednesday in GW’s A-10 opener at the Smith Center.

GW start A-10 play an 8-2 overall record, having lost two tough matches to No. 12 University of Florida and American. According to Coronel and Arnold, the drive for a championship is a deep and dedicated one.

If there’s any year (to make the NCAA’s) this is the year to do it, Coronel said. We jump better and we’re moving faster.

The GW volleyball team has not been to the NCAA Tournament since Susie Homan’s 1995 squad went 30-6 overall and made it to the tournament’s second round. Similar to the 2000 team, GW was 6-2 when it defeated a visiting Temple team to open its conference season.

The Colonials have the personnel in this early season filled with hopes and expectations that can overcome Temple’s recent stranglehold on the conference. This is the team that can beat Temple. Now the Colonials must step on the court and prove they can.

We will win the A-10’s and go to the NCAA’s, Arnold said.

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