The Slippery Rock women’s volleyball team traveled to Canton, Ohio, Friday to play within the Hall of Fame City Challenge. While SRU didn’t bring home any wins, they had the opportunity to compete and prepare for Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) games.
With last season being lost to the COVID-19 pandemic, the games played so far this year are the team’s first court appearances in quite some time. In the opening games, The Rock sits at 2-6.
At the Hall of Fame tournament, Slippery Rock rallied against Malone University in an intense five-set match. Women’s volleyball head coach Laureen Lokash didn’t like how the match ended though.
“We were disappointed losing to Malone, too many unforced errors,” Lokash said. “The last 5 points are critical. We need to stay focused and not give up.”
The team had a back and forth matchup with Fairmont State. However, after both teams reached 20 points, The Falcons were able to control in all three sets. In the second set, they scored five straight points to put away the game.
“The momentum changes [after 20 points] and that is something the team needs to work through,” Lokash said. “When things get tight, inexperience shows, and the team becomes less aggressive.”
Lokash said she believes that if they’re giving each play their all, there are no stupid mistakes.
“If they are confident in their abilities, that mindset will limit mistakes,” Lokash said.
With many freshman and sophomores coming out of high school not having played since, Lokash feels that they’re far less hesitant. Which in turn, has yielded progress in the right direction for the young squad to grow over the next four years.
However, the quality of the teams they played were high and it gave good practice for conference play. Saginaw Valley and Fairmont State came in undefeated, while Malone came in with only one loss.
“We stuck with them the entire match, we just need to finish,” Lokash said.
Lokash said that right now the season is a building process. Since the roster isn’t full and many underclassmen are making their first college debut, it has been a work in progress. Lokash also noted that most of the time spent during the offseason was based around building culture, as she felt the team was heading in the wrong direction prior.
Assistant Coach Erin Street implemented a gratitude board to build a strong bond between girls on the team. The weekly meetings allowed time for the team to open up about what they’re grateful for and “not to wallow in self-pity,” according to Lokash.
Many of the discussions were focused on the true values of the Slippery Rock Volleyball program and what exactly those values mean. The team was honest, revealed their individual faults with one another and in turn gained each other’s trust. These bonding activities helped the squad to come together both on and off the court. Lokash added that admitting their secrets and imperfections with one another created a safe space to share feelings.
“Lots of ups and downs, five mornings a week for three months, and it helped us all grow together,” the coaching staff said on Instagram. “Some of the things the players were grateful for: parents, ibuprofen and post-workout naps. This goes to show that sometimes the simpler things in life are the ones we value the most.”
The coaching staff felt that one of the main goals was to get everyone back on the court, but most importantly healthy. The team is often changing with injuries, concussions and other obstacles within the lineup. With many substitutions, Lokash said she is looking for good performance at the end of the day.
The most notable takeaway came from outside hitter, Alayna Chizmar, who said they need to learn to win. This came after she approached Lokash for making multiple substitutions at the last tournament. That conversation stuck with her and became words to strive for each pass, play and serve.
Different players continue to step up and do their part when adaptation is necessary. Returner Abigail Koeller is one player the team is looking forward to getting back on the court healthy.
“As for the next regional tournament, they don’t want to risk any further injuries and will allow for a slow recovery,” Lokash said. “Moving forward, players will work closely with the athletic trainer to decide if they can play directly after a tweaked injury.”
When the veteran players are unable to risk playing at the expense of the season, underclassmen have been adapting to fill the role. Specifically, Kate Lachendro came into the libero spot for Lauren Weber and changed her position to an outside hitter. Lachendro tallied 28 digs as a defensive specialist and a single ace versus Malone.
An important aspect is to keep gaining experience prior to the official season with two classes of players having never stepped on the court for the Rock before this season. For Lokash, though, the goal remains the same as always, even with two classes of new players.
“As always, the goal is for a productive season and to have a chance in the PSAC tournament,” Lokash said.
The University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown will come to town on Tuesday to face The Rock. The PSAC West battle will be Slippery Rock’s first taste of conference play this season and will also serve as their home opener.