Volleyball Begins 2018, Scott Era at Bucknell Invitational

Morgan Tippie (Photo by Regina Thompson)
Morgan Tippie (Photo by Regina Thompson)

The Youngstown State volleyball team begins the 2018 season and the Aline Scott era with three matches at the Bucknell Invitational this weekend. The Penguins will open the campaign with a match on Friday at 5:30 p.m. against Saint Peter's, and they'll play NJIT and Bucknell on Saturday. Live stats throughout the weekend will be available through BucknellBison.com, and live video of Saturday's match against the host Bison will be streamed on the Patriot League Network.

A Quick Look at the Penguins

The Penguins will be a young squad in 2018 with 10 of their 16 members being freshmen or sophomores. YSU has nine returning letterwinners on the squad, and five of its top six attackers return from last year's team that finished 8-22. In addition to a new head coach, the Penguins will have to replace multiple-year starters at outside hitter and libero, and they'll also have a new starter at setter. Senior middle blocker Sarah Varcolla is the only player who has been a full-time starter for more than one season.

Scott Era Begins

Friday marks the first match for Youngstown State under head coach Aline Scott. Scott is the 10th coach in program history, and she is a head coach at the Division I level for the first time. She came to YSU having spent eight seasons coaching in Ohio, the previous three as the head coach at Division III Hiram College and five as an assistant at Akron. Hiram, which is 35 miles from YSU, won 61 matches in her three seasons as head coach. Scott was also a head coach at Division II Indiana University of Pennsylvania for two seasons.

New Setter Running Offense

YSU will have a new starting setter for the second straight season in 2018. In fact, no player on the roster has started a match at setter at the Division I level. Val Jeffery was the Penguins' starting setter from 2014-16, and YSU employed a 6-2 offense with Heather Splinter and Libbie Darling in 2017. Splinter has graduated, and Darling will miss the season as she recovers from a knee injury. Sarah Varcolla enters the season as the active career leader in assists with 34.

Transfers Alexia Byrnes and Giovanna Kuntze will battle for the starting setter job. Byrnes is a redshirt freshman who signed with Louisville after a highly-touted high school career. The Lisle, Ill., native was a three-time state champion in high school and was named one of the top 20 setters in the country in 2015-16 by Prep Volleyball. Kuntze comes in with more collegiate experience, having earned First-Team NJCAA All-America accolades for Seward County Community College in 2017. She ranked fourth nationally in assists and assists per set and helped the Lady Saints to a 32-3 record.

Road Heavy Schedule

Youngstown State will play the entirety of its 14-match non-conference schedule on the road in 2018. The Penguins will play three-match tournaments at Bucknell, Duquesne, Virginia and Akron, and they'll make short trips to Kent State and Robert Morris as well. While YSU won't play at home until Sept. 28, eight of its non-league matches will be played within 70 miles of campus.

AVCA Team Academic Award

Youngstown State earned the American Volleyball Coaches Association Team Academic Award for the fifth straight season in 2017-18. Teams need at least a 3.3 GPA during the year to appear on the list, and YSU posted a 3.36. Individually, Erin Kalahar registered a 4.0 in both semesters, and Marketa Plesingrova and Morgan Tippie both had a 4.0 in the fall.

Varcolla Provides Experience

Sarah Varcolla is by far the most experienced player on Youngstown State's roster, and she's looking to carry the squad during a big senior year. Varcolla is YSU's active leader in career kills (739), blocks (283), aces (98) and sets played (329), and she's technically the active leader in assists (34) with setter Libbie Darling out for the season. Compared to her closest teammate, Varcolla has 492 more career kills, 190 more blocks, 73 more aces and 146 more sets played.

Varcolla could be an All-Horizon League candidate after being one of two players in the conference to rank in the top eight in both blocks and aces per set in 2017. She is also vying to become just the fifth Penguin to reach 1,000 career kills and 400 career blocks.

Odds & Ends

  • YSU's team captains in 2018 are sophomore Libbie Darling, junior Aleah Hughes and senior Sarah Varcolla.
  • YSU has three student-athletes from Utah on its roster, which is actually two more than the University of Utah has on its roster. Sophomore Libbie Darling is a Kaysville, Utah, native, and twins Brooklen and Kaybrie Pe'a are freshmen from Bountiful, Utah.
  • Sophomore Margaux Thompson returns after leading the team with 2.49 kills per set in 2017. She also contributed 3.15 digs per set and was a primary passer as she was named the team's Rookie of the Year.
  • Junior Aleah Hughes is back with the Penguins after not being part of the program in 2017. Hughes started 21 matches in 2016, and she is one of three team captains in 2018.

Scouting Opponents

Saint Peter's: Saint Peter's returns 10 letterwinners from last year's squad that went winless in 30 matches. Middle hitter Alexus Sharp returns for her senior year after leading Saint Peter's with 204 kills and 62 blocks in 2017. The Peacocks and Penguins have played three times previously, and YSU owns a 2-1 edge in the series. The last meeting in 2008 resulted in a 3-0 sweep by YSU.

NJIT: NJIT is coming off a 12-19 campaign in which it saw its win total increase for the second straight year. The Highlanders have eight upperclassmen on their roster, including Preseason All-Atlantic Sun selection Adriana Nieto. Nieto, a senior libero, led the ASUN in aces and ranked fourth in the ASUN in digs last season. Returners Iva Mandic and Madi Busler both posted more than 225 kills last season. YSU and NJIT will be squaring off for the first time.

Bucknell: Bucknell went 14-14 last season, and its 14 wins tied for the program's most in the last 11 seasons. The Bison have an experienced group in 2018 as they bring back last year's team leaders in kills, aces, digs and blocks, and they also bring back another starter who missed all of 2017 with an injury. Mimi Richards is one of three returning Bucknell players who started every match last season, and she was named second-Team All-Patriot League. The Penguins and Bison will also play on Sept. 15 at Akron's Zips Invitational. YSU is 5-0 all-time against Bucknell with the last meeting coming in 2000.

Next Week

Youngstown State will play four matches in the area next week, starting with a contest on Tuesday at Kent State. The Penguins will then play twice on Friday and once on Saturday at the Duquesne Invitational.