The Youngstown State volleyball team begins the final stretch of the regular season this weekend with two matches at Beeghly Center. The Penguins will host Oakland on Friday at 7 p.m. and Northern Kentucky on Saturday at 5 p.m. Friday is Family Night, and the families of YSU's student-athletes will be introduced. Saturday is Senior Day, when Jessie Gerig, Aly Ryan, Lauren Thompson and Nikki Thompson will be recognized for their achievements. Both matches will be broadcast live on ESPN3 and the WatchESPN app.
Youngstown State is currently eighth in the Horizon League standings, and the Penguins believe they will need to win four of their five remaining matches to have a reasonable chance at moving into sixth and qualifying for the conference tournament. YSU is 3-8 in conference play, but it has played better over the past three weeks. Friday starts a stretch of three home matches in a five-day period.
The Penguins have played just once since Oct. 24, a match that resulted in a 3-0 loss to Cleveland State on Oct. 30. Youngstown State battled to 26-24 in the first set, and the first-place Vikings had 11 blocks over the final two sets in winning 25-20 and 25-16. Middle hitters Aly Ryan and Lori Vanbeek both had eight kills and three blocks, and libero Nikki Thompson registered a match-high 18 digs. Junior setter Val Jeffery surpassed 2,000 career assists in the match against the Vikings.
Youngstown State's final home match of the season will be on Tuesday at 7 p.m. against Wright State. The Penguins will then conclude the regular season with a pair of road matches at Valparaiso and UIC next weekend.
- Mark Hardaway is in his fourth season as YSU's head coach. In his first three years, he led the Penguins to winning records in three straight seasons for the first time in school history.
- Youngstown State is trying to qualify for the Horizon League Tournament for the fourth straight season under Hardaway. YSU returns four starters – Sam Brown, Val Jeffery, Aly Ryan and Lauren Thompson – and its libero – Nikki Thompson – from last year's team that went 17-14 and advanced to the tournament semifinals.
- Youngstown State was picked to finish tied for sixth in the Horizon League preseason poll. Val Jeffery was tabbed as the conference's preseason setter of the year, an honor she earned at the end of the 2014 season.
- Youngstown State leads the Horizon League in blocks with 2.58 per set during conference play. That's up significantly from the 1.75 blocks per set that the Penguins averaged in non-league play. YSU is averaging 3.03 blocks per set over its last five matches, and Lori Vanbeek is averaging 1.70 blocks in that stretch. YSU's 2.09 blocks per set for the year ranks tied-for-third in the league.
- YSU is also averaging a league-best 1.36 aces per set during league play. Penguins freshman Sarah Varcolla leads the league with 35 aces and 0.37 per set, and her seven aces in the season opener against Bradley is the most by any league player this season.
- Youngstown State has posted its top three attack percentages of Horizon League play in its last four matches. YSU hit .270 in the sweep at Green Bay at Saturday, .231 at Milwaukee and .265 against Valparaiso.
- Varcolla ranks third among all league freshmen with 200 kills, and she is fifth in blocks with 40.
- Senior libero Nikki Thompson is 23 digs from moving into second place on YSU's career digs list. She sits at 1,221 for her career with Cari Leslie (2003-06) just ahead of her.
- Junior Val Jeffery surpassed 2,000 assists in her Penguins career in YSU's last match against Cleveland State. The 2014 Horizon League Setter of the Year is the eighth player in school history to reach the milestone. Jeffery also had 117 assists her freshman year at High Point.
- Senior Aly Ryan ranks second on YSU's career block assists chart (359), and she is 15 blocks from entering the top five in school history in total blocks.
- Sophomore Sam Brown needs five kills to reach 500 in her career. She had 293 last season, which was the fifth most by a freshman in school history. Ruth Boscaljon (2006-07), Missy Hundelt (2010-11) and Vickie Robinson (1996-97) are the Penguins in currently school history to have 500 kills by the end of their sophomore years.