When a team wraps up a season with an 11-19 record, it would be easy to take only negatives away, but in her 34th year as Slippery Rock volleyball’s head coach, Laurie Lokash saw many positives throughout her team’s 2017 campaign.
“I still think we have a good team,” Lokash said. “We had six or seven five-set losses throughout the year, which is [tough]. This is a really good group of kids that have talent.”
“When someone is working through something and it finally clicks, seeing the joy on their face is really cool,” Assistant coach Janna Reilly said.
The season started out with huge promise, as Slippery Rock rattled off eight straight wins in tournament play at neutral sites. The Green and White then lost all four matches at their last tournament before entering Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) play.
Slippery Rock lost its’ first six PSAC contests, but they weren’t blowouts by any means. SRU pushed two of the contests to five sets, and two others losing in four sets with tight scores.
“At one point in the year, there was a difference of 24 points scored between us and our opponents,” Lokash said. “What’s the difference between being 17-11 and 11-17? Is it 24 points? Could be.”
Slippery Rock broke their losing streak win a straight-set win over Edinboro on October 10th.
“The night we beat Edinboro was a real highlight for everyone here because it had been a while since we beat them,” Lokash said. “We have several kids on our team from the Erie area, so that was a big boost to them.”
Slippery Rock was led this season by a quintet of seniors, headlined by libero Courtney Oberlander. Oberlander broke her own school record for digs in a season this year, finishing with 665 digs, good for 12th in the country. Oberlander ended up finishing second all-time in school history in digs with 1904, 46 short of the school record held by Sally Scott.
“Court is just one of those kids, she is working when nobody else is watching. [That] gets thrown out there for a lot of players, but she is always trying to perfect her craft,” Lokash said. “Everything that she got she has earned.”
Setter Haley Defibaugh is another senior who leaves SRU with her mark in the record book. Defibaugh closed out her career with 2058 assists, sixth all-time in SRU history.
Middle hitter Brooke Bostwick led the team in blocks with 92, finishing 12th in the PSAC. Bostwick also finished the year with 220 kills, third on the team.
Outside hitter Lamija Alisic didn’t begin the year as a starter, but quickly became an integral part of the Rock’s offensive attack. Alisic finished sixth on the team in kills with 104, and seventh in digs with 86.
The final Green and White senior is setter Hanna Lombardo. Lombardo appeared in eight contests for the Rock this year and had a season-high 17 assists vs Elizabeth City State in September.
“They were a fairly hard-working group of people, they provided the best leadership that they could,” Lokash said. “When you have people leading by example, it makes the underclassmen understand the time and commitment they need to put in at the collegiate level.”
The team’s performance this year wasn’t all bet on the seniors, as SRU got contributions from all classes. Coming into the season Lokash emphasized that no matter what class they were in, any player could become a leader on the team and that held true throughout the season.
Slippery Rock had a sophomore that led them in two statistical categories. A season removed from leading SRU in assists, Rivet doubled down this season and again led her team in assists with 536. Rivet also led the team in aces with 28.
“Zoe works hard at setting, she needs to learn to be more demanding,” Lokash said. “[The setter] is the quarterback, you have to be able to direct your team […] she’s just a really nice person, and she’s going to have to find that little edge where she can command people a little better.”
Another underclassman who excelled in serving was defensive specialist Jalyn Willard. Willard was third on the team in aces with 19 and played in the fourth-most sets (109).
“Jalyn probably had some rough times throughout the year from a performance standpoint, but she was able to pull herself out,” Lokash said. “Towards the end of the season, she became a kid who spoke more and more, she has the potential to become a big leader.”
The team will now turn its’ attention to recruiting and training for the 2018 season. Among the training will be a new “captain training” which any player on the team can choose to go through.
“We expect a lot out of kids as far as leaders go, but we never teach kids how to be leaders,” Lokash said. “We are going to try to make sure that the next group that comes in is going to be a little bit more prepared for those challenges that kids have to face.”