The GW women’s volleyball team will begin its regular season this weekend with three games in the Patriot Invitational at George Mason University. Head coach Jojit Coronel said he would like to use this opening tournament to gain early momentum for the rest of the season.
After winning all four games at the GW/Navy Chesapeake Invitational, last year’s Colonials steam-rolled through their early schedule winning 12 of 15 matches. But this year’s team bares little resemblance to the one that played in the NCAA Tournament.
The team heads into its first regular season games this week without five key seniors, including All-Atlantic 10 setter and three-time MVP, co-captain Jill Levey. In contrast, this year’s captain, sophomore Laura Dunning, played 88 games but rarely started. The team has only one returning starter, sophomore Ruth Lazzari.
The Colonials host George Mason (University) Friday morning and the College of William and Mary later in the day, finishing the weekend with the University of Chicago-Urbana Champaign.
The team will look to Lazzari to step in and fill the hole Levey and the other starters left. Lazzari said it is more important for them to play well this weekend than it is for them to win each of their three games.
“If we’re playing well, whether or not we win, I think it’s a good start to the season,” Lazzari said. “You want to start off playing well. Otherwise, your confidence goes down, and we’ve been playing well the last two and half weeks.”
Coronel said his team needs to face outside competition after practicing in the Smith Center for three weeks.
“(This weekend) is important in the sense that we haven’t faced any competition besides each other in the gym,” Coronel said.
Coronel said his team will match up against experience in two games this weekend.
Last season the Patriots went 17-10, 8-4 and averaged more than two kills per game against their opponents.
“They’re a veteran team. I expect them to be very good,” Coronel said.
William and Mary finished last season with a 15-14 record and a first-round exit in the Colonials Athletic Association Conference Tournament.
“Just (based on) watching tape, William and Mary look very good,” Coronel said. “They run a very complicated offense. They’re athletic, they’re fast.”
The Fighting Illini struggled through most of last season (13-18), and like GW, they field a young team.
“Illinois, being a Big-10 school, they play physical,” Coronel said. “I don’t think they’re as athletic (as William and Mary).”
Six GW freshmen join returning players senior Shannon Farley and sophomores Lindsay Ochs and Sarah Hokom.
Despite the inexperience of the team, Coronel said he is preparing for the season the same way he prepared last year’s veteran squad – drilling the fundamentals.
“We’re not throwing our whole play-book at the girls,” Coronel said. “We’re doing it one step at a time. And they’re picking it up, which is good. I think with just the fundamentals- simple offense, simple defense- we should be pretty competitive.”
Last year the Colonials traveled to and defeated the Patriots 3-2 in late October. It was after the team’s win at GMU that the Colonials went on to win eight-of-ten matches, including a defeat of conference-rival Xavier for the A-10 championship.
The Patriot Invitational will not be a battle for D.C. supremacy, despite George Mason’s close proximity. Coronel said establishing the team’s confidence is a larger concern than any pride that could be lost with a poor performance.
“For us it’s just an excellent opportunity to use it as a springboard for the following tournament and a chance to look at the girls,” Coronel said.