Despite a winless season thus far, volleyball has found a bright spot in freshman outsider hitter Salem Yohannes.
Though the team has lost 15 consecutive games, Yohannes has posted some impressive statistics throughout the season, including a team leading 141.5 points and 130 kills on 465 total attempts. On the defensive side, she boasts another team high .936 reception percentage and 119 digs on 357 total attempts, placing her just a spot behind senior libero Bella Bowman with 220 digs.
The first year player donning the No. 1 jersey has made a name for herself with both viewers of the game and her teammates and coaches.
“Sally is one of our smoothest players in regards to going from the start of a skill to the end,” head coach Sarah Bernson said. “That was evident in practice right away, and also that first weekend of play, which she did really well and made everyone else take notice.”
Bernson said other teams have started to take notice of Yohannes and have been specifically targeting her in the scouting game in an attempt to limit her impact on the court.
“I think the last two weeks, she’s done a really good job of learning how to handle responsibility, knowing that teams are gonna try to limit her ability to score and impact her,” Bernson said. “She’s a six rotation player, so she’s involved all the time so she doesn’t get any mental breaks. Her learning how to manage that and how she can control that has been really great to see.”
Bernson said Yohannes has built her strong reputation through her hard work ethic, ability to be coached and strong relationships with her teammates both in practice and the games. She said she has emerged as a leader in practice despite her young age in relation to the rest of the roster.
“As much as my body would hate it and my brain would love it, I can’t be on the court with them for every point,” Bernon said. “I only have two timeouts so their ability to adjust and problem solve amongst themselves is really important. And Sally has been able to navigate that even though she’s a first-year.”
Yohannes said she had to learn how to adjust quickly and manage her time in between classes and volleyball at the collegiate level, but has fallen into a daily routine that allows her to maintain a consistent performance. She said she’s also adjusted to playing with a new team after playing with the same people at the club level for so long and built the necessary trust to succeed on the court.
But hard work does not always translate into team results as the team has stumbled its way to an 0-15 record. Yohannes said the biggest challenge for both her and the team is maintaining confidence moving forward.
“I know I can do it, and I know what I can do,” Yohannes said. “But sometimes when you’re playing with older people, especially on our team, even other teams are four or five years older, they have more experience.”
Bernson said she is still seeing improvement with the team as they learn their strengths and how to utilize them effectively, even in the absence of Yohannes in their home A-10 openers against Dayton and Duquesne.
“I think when we struggled early, we kind of lost the team system we’ve had to execute,” Bernson said. “I think we’ve hit a stride recently, we’ve definitely played better this past weekend. Even though we didn’t have number one in a jersey, we played better. And with her in a jersey this weekend, I think it’s going to be a very solid output for us.”
As the year goes on, Yohannes said she is learning to become mentally resilient throughout the daily practices and the game-packed weekends as the team tries to position itself for future success.
“It’s physically exhausting, but also mentally,” Yohannes said. “I just think I have to learn to have more patience with myself, to not be so hard on myself, because this is something new. College volleyball is not easy, or everyone would be doing it.”
Because of this newfound mental toughness, Bernson said Yohannes has assumed some of the leadership of the team at a young age, and her role is only projected to grow as she improves her communication on the court and the ability to relay information quickly in tight moments.
“It all comes down to presence,” Bernson said. “So you can be quiet if you have a presence, and Sally definitely has that. She communicates where she is next to people and the team has learned her tone. She doesn’t need to be super loud, and the team has learned to communicate with her in that way.”
Despite the rocky start, the team will look to close out the season on a high note. With just four conference games played, the team has plenty of time to turn their fortunes around and make a run in the A-10 Championship.
“Individually, I would say to take more risks and take more chances because playing safe obviously doesn’t work,” Yohannes said. “And then as a team, I would just say to continue to trust each other with knowing everyone’s responsibilities, so that we can play well together. If we all do our jobs, we can be really good.”
The Colonials will look to turn the corner and capture their first win of the season in a conference matchup on the road against Fordham Friday. First serve is set for 5 p.m.