YSU Begins Horizon League Volleyball Slate at Cleveland State, Oakland

Erin Kalahar (left) and Sarah Varcolla (Photo by David Dermer)
Erin Kalahar (left) and Sarah Varcolla (Photo by David Dermer)

The Youngstown State volleyball team begins the Horizon League portion of its schedule this week as it opens at Cleveland State and Oakland. The Penguins will play the Vikings on Friday at 6 p.m., and they'll make the 200-mile trip to Oakland for a match on Saturday at 4 p.m. Friday evening's match will be streamed live on ESPN3, and live stats will be available for both contest. Cleveland State finished atop the Horizon League preseason coaches poll, and Oakland was picked to finish second.

Scouting Report

  • YSU enters Horizon League play with a 6-7 record and looking to snap a four-match losing streak. The Penguins went undefeated the first week of the season to win the Bucknell Invitational, and they were 5-2 after wins over UNLV and Duquesne at the Duquesne Invitational.
  • Sophomore outside hitter Margaux Thompson averages 3.2 kills and 3.6 digs per set, and junior outside hitter Aleah Hughes averages 2.96 kills and 3.96 digs. Hughes is the only player in the Horizon League to rank among the top 10 in the conference in both kills and digs per set. Sarah Varcolla is the top blocker at 0.86 blocks per set, and Alexia Byrnes averages a team-high 7.53 assists per set. Giovanna Kuntze leads the squad with 12 aces.
  • YSU ranks ninth in the country – but oddly third in the Horizon League – with 18.06 digs per set. The Penguins averaged 14.64 digs per set in 2017 and haven't averaged at least 18 digs per set since 1999.

Recapping Last Week

The Penguins went 0-3 last week as it closed non-conference play with 3-1 losses at Robert Morris and Akron and a 3-2 loss to Toledo. YSU had three match points in the fifth set against Toledo before falling 20-18. Youngstown State was originally supposed to play Iona and Bucknell at the Zips Invitational, but Iona pulled out due to a scheduling conflict and Toledo filled the spot after its tournament at VCU was canceled due to Hurricane Florence.

Quick Notes From Last Week

  • Giovanna Kuntze was named to the all-tournament team at the Zips Invitational after averaging 9.6 assists and 3.1 digs over two matches. She posted 35 assists and 11 digs in a four-set loss to Akron, and she had a near triple-double against Toledo with 51 assists, 17 digs and nine kills. The nine kills came on just 15 attempts, and the 51 assists were the most by a Penguin this season.
  • Aleah Hughes registered 25 kills in the five-setter versus Toledo. That was the highest total by a YSU player since Missy Hundelt had 25 vs. Siena on Aug. 26, 2011. Hughes added 16 digs for her eighth double-double of the season.
  • Margaux Thompson had double-doubles at both of YSU's matches at the Zips Invitational. She posted 14 kills and 11 digs versus Akron, and she followed that up with 10 kills and 11 digs against Toledo. Thompson has 10 double-doubles in YSU's first 13 matches.
  • YSU played just its second five-set match of the season against Toledo. The only other five-set match came in a Penguins victory over UNLV on Aug. 31.
  • YSU had seven aces twice in three matches last week, which tied its previous season high that was set against Bucknell on Aug. 25.

Horizon League Rankings

  • Youngstown State ranks in the top half of the Horizon League in four statistical categories and sits fifth in another. The Penguins are third in digs (18.06), kills (12.70) and assists (11.76) per set, and they are fourth in aces per set (1.22). YSU is fifth in hitting percentage (.157) and seventh in blocks per set (1.66).
  • Individually, Aleah Hughes is the only player in the conference to rank in the top 10 in both kills and digs per sett. She ranks fifth with 2.96 kills per set, and she sits ninth with 3.96 digs per set. Margaux Thompson is the highest ranking Penguin in any category as she ranks third with 3.20 kills per set. Alexia Byrnes is fifth with 7.53 assists per set, and Reis Zandier ranks seventh with 4.04 digs per set.

National Rankings

  • YSU ranks sixth among 334 Division I teams with 39.14 attacks per set, and it is ninth with 18.06 digs per set. The Penguins are also 10th in total digs (903) and 13th in total attacks (1,957).

Scouting Opponents

  • Cleveland State: Cleveland State was the preseason favorite to win the Horizon League, and it enters conference play with a 6-6 record. The Vikings started 4-1 and beat Santa Clara and Butler over the weekend. CSU averages a league-best 2.67 blocks per set, and three Vikings rank among the top eight in the conference. Hannah Greene paces the league with 1.44 blocks per set, and she ranks 10th in the league with a .232 attack percentage. CSU assistant coach Mark Hardaway was YSU's head coach from 2012-17.
  • Oakland: Oakland was picked to finish a close second in the Horizon League preseason poll, and the Golden Grizzlies went 4-7 in non-conference play. Oakland was 3-1 through four matches, then lost six straight contests against a tough slate before beating Saint Francis U on Saturday. The Golden Grizzlies rank third in the league in blocks, and Jamie Walling is second individually with 1.12 blocks per set. Lindsay Wightman sits second with 4.95 digs per set.

Next Week

Youngstown State will play at home for the first time in 2018 next week as it hosts Wright State and IUPUI at Beeghly Center. The Penguins and Raiders will play on Friday at 6 p.m., and they'll take on the Jaguars at 4 p.m. on Saturday.