Invitational starts season

In the world of college sports, there are many definitions of a successful season. A solid recruiting class, the loss of seniors, a coaching change; all these things can impact the way a team sets their goals and milestones for the upcoming year.

For GW volleyball coach Jojit Coronel, the recipe for success has remained largely the same in recent years.

In 2003, under the leadership of four senior starters, a successful season resulted in a berth in the Atlantic 10 tournament, with a shot at the NCAAs. For the next year, after GW lost those four seniors, the goal remained constant.

Now, after a disappointing 2004 season in which the Colonials finished 7-23, with a 3-11 record in the A-10, forcing them to sit out that year’s tournament, Coronel is still not changing his tune.

“My goal as coach is always to have a successful season,” he said in a phone interview while on a recruiting trip in Minnesota. “Success for us is based on wins and losses. We need to be better than we were last year.”

After a 3-1 loss to James Madison on Aug. 26, the Colonials do not have to wait long for a chance to bounce back. The GW Invitational starts Friday as the Colonials take on Iona College at 7 p.m. at the Smith Center. Though the opposition is unfamiliar, Coronel is quick to warn about taking things lightly.

“I think they’re going to be the toughest team we play,” he said. “It’s good that we’re starting off with a really good team on Friday on our home court. We should definitely be pumped up for that match. It’ll be a battle.”

The Colonials continue play in the tournament on Saturday, first with a match-up against Delaware State at 2 p.m., then with the closing match of the tournament against Towson at 7 p.m.

“None of these are really sleeper teams,” Coronel said of the teams participating in this year’s invitational. “We can have a bad day and lose, but every time you step on the court, we need to be on our game, individually and as the team.”

The Colonials will look to jump-start their season by way of a senior class that now has another full season under its belt.

“This team that’s returning from last year has that year of development both physically and mentally,” Coronel said. “They have that year of experience.”

Leading this group is captain Jessica Vesey, the team’s defensive specialist, who led the squad with 462 digs from the libero position in 2004.

On the attacking side, Shannon Parks and Lindsey Vernand look to provide much of the offense from the right, while the 6-foot-3 Abigail Hatter will be a dominant force up front now that her injury woes appear to be in the past. The senior had missed significant time in previous seasons due to a back injury, but Coronel said Hatter’s recovery has made her a stronger player.

“Throughout her career, (Hatter) has been plagued with injuries,” he said. “Fortunately she only has to do this for another three to four months, then her career is over.”

Coronel continued, “She has really sucked it up and said ‘I’m just going to go all out every day in practice because this is my senior year and I want to compete as hard as possible.'”

Besides senior leadership, the team will also rely on the complete play of outside hitters Janine Brown and Juliene McLaughlin, who combined for 533 kills and 464 digs last season.

“(Brown and McLaughlin) are the only ones on the court who remain on the court for really the whole match,” Coronel said. “They play front row, they play back row, and their passing, their digging, their serving, their blocking, their setting when needed and their attacking is all played extremely well. They really carry an intense load for our team.”

In the Colonials’ first match of the year at James Madison, the duo performed well, though the 3-1 loss left some things to be desired. GW could not find an answer to the Dukes’ balance of offensive power as five different James Madison players reached double digits in kills.

“(James Madison) played really fast and we played really fast, and at some point we slowed down and they just continued,” said Coronel about the match. “I think with a couple days of practice we’ll be playing with a sense of urgency and playing to compete with the other teams in the A-10.”

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