Volleyball Starts Four-Match Week on Tuesday at Kent State

Erin Kalahar (Photo by Kyle Kroynovich)
Erin Kalahar (Photo by Kyle Kroynovich)

The Youngstown State volleyball team will try to carry momentum from its undefeated start to the 2018 season into a four-match week that begins Tuesday. The Penguins will make the short trip to Kent State to play the Golden Flashes on Tuesday at 7 p.m., and they'll play contests against UNLV, Bowling Green and Duquesne at the Duquesne Invitational over the weekend. Live stats will be available throughout the weekend, and live video will be available for the matches versus Kent State and Duquesne.

Recapping Last Week

Youngstown State began the 2018 season and the Aline Scott era with three straight victories last weekend at the Bucknell Invitational. The Penguins swept Saint Peter's in the season opener on Friday, and they earned a pair of four-set wins over NJIT and Bucknell on Saturday. The match against the host Bison decided the championship, and the contest turned in YSU's favor with a 31-29 win in the third set. The Penguins cruised to a 25-13 win in the fourth.

Margaux Thompson was named the tournament MVP after posting three consecutive double-doubles and averaging 4.55 kills and 4.73 digs per set. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Aleah Hughes, who averaged 2.73 kills and 4.45 digs, and Alexia Byrnes, who averaged 9.73 assists and 4.82 digs per set. As a team, YSU posted impressive averages of 15.18 kills and 23.27 digs per set.

Quick Notes from Bucknell

  • The Penguins went beyond 25 points in two sets as part of their 3-0 weekend. YSU rallied from a 22-18 deficit to beat Saint Peter's 28-26 in the first set of the season, and they outlasted Bucknell 31-29 in the third set of the championship match.
  • YSU averaged 23.27 digs per set last weekend, which was the fifth-most in the country. That's a huge increase from 2017 when the Penguins averaged 14.64 digs per set. In fact, YSU hasn't averaged at least 15.5 digs since 2007, which is the last season that 30 points were needed to win a set. Reis Zandier (5.33), Alexia Byrnes (4.82), Margaux Thompson (4.73) and Aleah Hughes (4.45) all averaged at least 4.4 digs per set.
  • YSU's back row was also strong in the passing game with just 10 receiving errors in 11 sets.
  • Margaux Thompson was YSU's top attacker with 4.55 kills per set, and her 50 kills were 20 more than the next closest Penguin. Thompson finished off her MVP weekend with a career-best 20 kills in the win over Bucknell.
  • YSU's two seniors, Morgan Tippie and Sarah Varcolla, were the squads top two blockers. Varcolla had nine blocks to lead the team, and Tippie was next in line with eight.
  • There were 12 different Penguins who appeared in at least one set last weekend, and four – Alexia Byrnes, Morgan Cleevely, Giovanna Kuntze and Brooklen Pe'a - made their debut at YSU.

Horizon League Rankings

  • As a team, YSU leads the Horizon League in kills (15.18) and assists (14.45) per set after the opening weekend. The Penguins also rank second in digs per set (23.27) and third in aces per set (1.55).
  • Individually, Margaux Thompson paces the conference with 4.55 kills per set, and Alexia Byrnes is the assists leader with 9.73 per set. Giovanna Kuntze ranks second in aces per set (0.64), and the Penguins have four of the top six individuals in digs per set. Reis Zandier is second with 5.33 per set, Byrnes is fourth with 4.82 per set, Thompson ranks fifth with 4.73 per set, and Aleah Hughes is sixth with 4.45 per set.

A Quick Look at the Penguins

The Penguins are 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

The 2018 season marks the beginning of the Aline Scott era at Youngstown State. 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

Redshirt freshman setter Alexia Byrnes made her collegiate debut last weekend at the Bucknell Invitational, and she made quite the first impression with a Horizon League-leading 9.73 assists per set. She added 4.82 digs per set, and her weekend was highlighted by a 37-assist, 23-dig, nine-kill performance in the win over NJIT. Byrnes transferred to YSU from Louisville after a highly-touted high school career.

Giovanna Kuntze also had a strong debut with 2.27 assists per set and an impressive 0.64 aces per set. Kuntze 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.

YSU has a new starting setter for the second straight season in 2018. In fact, no player on the roster had started a match at setter at the Division I level prior to the season. 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.

Road Heavy Schedule

Youngstown State will play the entirety of its 14-match non-conference schedule on the road in 2018. The Penguins 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 (763), blocks (292), aces (101) and sets played (340). Compared to her closest teammate, Varcolla has 466 more career kills, 191 more blocks, 76 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.
  • 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

Kent State: Kent State is 2-1 after the opening weekend with each match resulting in sweeps. The Golden Flashes began the season with 3-0 victories over Grambling State and Nicolls on Friday, and they fell 3-0 to host North Texas on Saturday. Freshmen Kathryn Ellison and Danie Tyson were both named to the all-tournament team. Kent State was 5-22 last season, and it added seven newcomers to eight returning letterwinners. The Golden Flashes were picked to finish fifth in the MAC East in the preseason coaches poll.

UNLV: UNLV enters the second week of the season with a 2-1 mark. The Rebels lost 3-1 to Indiana in the season opener, and it bounced back to sweep Southern Utah and LIU Brooklyn at the UNLV Invitational. Sophomore Mariena Hayden earned all-tournament team honors after averaging 4.08 kills and 4.20 digs per set over the three matches. The Rebels return eight players from last year's squad that finished 8-23, and UNLV was tabbed to finish 11th in the Mountain West in 2018. Dawn Sullivan is in her first season as head coach of the Rebels.

Bowling Green: Bowling Green was swept in each of its three matches at the Purdue Mortar Board Premier tournament to begin the season, losing 3-0 to Tulsa, Purdue and Wofford. Kallie Seimet was an all-tournament team selection after averaging an impressive 5.89 digs per set over the three matches. She led the country in digs per set in 2017, and she and Katie Kidwell were members of the Preseason All-MAC squad. The Falcons went 17-12 last season and earned a share of the regular-season title in the Mid-American Conference with a 13-3 mark in the league.

Duquesne: Duquesne split two matches in Eastern Pennsylvania last week, losing 3-1 at Lehigh and beating Lafayette 3-0. Kori Johnson averages 2.43 kills per set on a .448 attack percentage to go along with 0.57 blocks per set. The Dukes were picked to finish fourth in the preseason Atlantic 10 Conference poll after posting a 13-16 record last season.

Looking Ahead

After the Duquesne Invitational this weekend, YSU's next action will be on Sept. 7 at Virginia as part of UVA's Jefferson Cup tournament. The Penguins will also play George Mason and UNC Wilmington while in Charlottesville, Va.