A week into preseason practices and two weeks from the first match of the season, the Youngstown State volleyball team is announcing its three captains for 2015.
Jessie Gerig and Aly Ryan will serve as captains for the second straight year, and they'll be joined by junior Val Jeffery. Gerig and Ryan are two of four seniors on the team, and Jeffery is one of two juniors.
"Jessie and Aly did a really good job last year and deserved to have the title again for their senior seasons," YSU head coach Mark Hardaway said. "All three captains have an outstanding work ethic, and all three are a little different, which makes them strong collectively. Aly might be the person most likely to get on her teammates if necessary, and Jessie is very good at lifting people up around her. Val does a good job leading by example and running the team. They just do things the right way and don't cut corners. That's what I want leading our team."
While Gerig, Ryan and Jeffery are part of a very solid core that returns from last season's 17-win team, Hardaway said the Penguins' biggest challenge so far has been replacing four-year starters Lexi Egler and Shannon Watson from an offensive standpoint. On the other hand, YSU's ball control and defense has been better than Hardaway expected.
"We changed a couple things with our defense last spring, and our returning players have done a great job adjusting," Hardaway said. "Our new kids are better defensively than I thought they'd be, which is making our defensive specialist position the strongest and deepest on our team."
Senior Nikki Thompson is the leader of that group, coming off a 2014 season in which she set the school record for digs in her first year as the starting libero.
"Lauren Blanco and Dana Borsz pushed Nikki last year, Rachelle Calvin is having a great preseason, Jessie Gerig is back, and you add Aleah Hughes to that mix. We have six really solid defensive players, and it may come down to matchups and what areas we need to be strong at for a particular match."
Hardaway also commented that redshirt freshman Heather Splinter's improvement at setter has allowed practices to be more competitive.
The Penguins will open the 2015 season on Friday, Aug. 28, against Bradley at the Toledo Rocket Invitational. The fall semester begins Wednesday, which is when YSU will slide into its normal afternoon practice schedule.
"One of our focuses will be figuring out what we'll be doing offensively, but the other thing is, if defense is going to be our strength, maybe we need change our philosophy a bit," Hardaway said. "It will probably take the next two weeks of practice and the first few weekends to determine what we'll do long term."