Being a team that is working through a rebuild to create a winning culture is something that can be hard to grapple with. Building a tightly knit squad and creating rolling confidence is much of the substance needed to turn a team over and consistently add to the win column.
Slippery Rock women’s Volleyball head coach Laurie Lokash stresses the importance of both of these values on her way to putting her team on the path to PSAC success.
Lokash is in her 39th season as the SRU women’s volleyball head coach. She has accumulated a career 660-626 record. Her triumphs have rewarded her with 2 PSAC Coach of the Year awards to go along with her five PSAC-West titles and two PSAC tournament titles.
Lokash commented on how, despite having a five-win season last year, the team has already more than doubled that win total with two matches still remaining.
“I think this group has taken some steps forward to unify the team culture… They’re on the pathway of learning how to win,” Lokash said.
Much of the preparation leading up to this year was focused on facing quality competition in tournaments. Lokash discussed how this played into her plan of building a winning environment.
“The tournaments that we played, we played people that were as good or better than us… We thought that that would prepare us best for the conference,” Lokash said. “Learning how to win comes from the confidence you get from beating a quality opponent.”
One of the earliest rewards seen from this preparation came in the form of a September 13th match against rival IUP. The Crimson Hawks are known as a quality opponent, but on the backs of double digit kill performances by both Erica Selfridge and Mary Berger, The Rock defended their home turf in five sets.
Coach Lokash explained that even when the team can easily see internal improvements, there is an inherent confidence boost given when you start to command respect from those around you.
“When people buy in to what’s being put out there, that can make very big difference,” Lokash said.
Now coming off an utterly dominant showing against Salem in which SRU outscored their opponent 58-20 and tallied 13 aces, The Rock sits at 12-16. They have won four of their last six matchups. They are also 5-2 at home with both remaining matches being held at SRU’s Morrow Field House.
This is despite facing the fifth most difficult schedule in the section based on opponent winning percentage up to this point. Coach Lokash attributes this success to a number of things, notably playing consistently and learning from each other.
“Learning how to win means learning how to put forth a consistent performance day in and day out,” Lokash said.
Some of the leadership and knowledge has come from new additions to the program. Part of the growth obviously comes from freshman recruits like Jaeden Yost, who leads the team with 570 assists.
Coach Lokash also specifically referenced senior defensive specialist Maria Lucas who transferred for this season after playing for two seasons at Shippensburg university.
“[Someone like Maria] brings the whole package with them,” Lokash said.
Coach Lokash also noted that Lucas comes from a volleyball family where she has been surrounded by the game for her whole life. This sort of consistent exposure and experience is invaluable not only because of the inevitable talent injection on the court but also because of the inherent knowledge a player like this brings with them. Bringing in experienced players to help on and off the court benefits everyone.
Coach Lokash looks to her players to build off each other in order to transform themselves into a team competing in the PSAC playoffs.
“I think this season for us was a bit of a turning point,” Lokash said.
Erica Selfridge, Abigail Nigon, and Kate Lachendro are three players reaping the benefits of this mentality.
Selfridge is a sophomore outside hitter. She started 29 of 30 games last year and has build on that by leading the team in kills with 254.
Nigon is a senior middle hitter who has established her defensive presence by leading the squad in blocks with 92.
Lachendro is a junior defensive specialist that is in the process of leading The Rock in digs back-to-back seasons. This year she has already amassed 553 digs which is good for tenth overall in Division II women’s volleyball nationwide.
The Rock now looks toward back to back home matchups with the season culminating on senior day which is November 5th against Seton Hill University.
The first of the two games is against Cal U. On October 4th this year, The Rock played Cal U away where they were able to hang around for five sets only to fall at the very end.
Coach Lokash and the team hopes their trend of strong home performances continues and propels them to a rivalry victory. Lokash mentioned how the more SRU puts out an entertaining product, the more people will come out to watch.
“I can’t thank all those people enough that have been out supporting our team… If you put out a good product people wanna come back and keep seeing it,” Lokash said.
The hope from there becomes confidence and strong play snowballing into a senior day victory against Seton Hill on October 8th. Finishing with back-to-back wins would cement The Rock’s record at 14-16. This would be an even more drastic improvement over last season, nearly tripling their 2021 win total.
Along with the record improvement, this would mean SRU finished the year off winning a robust six games out of eight which could only create a massive wave of momentum and even further increased confidence looking toward the 2023 season.
It is becoming increasingly evident that coach Lokash’s players are growing more and more comfortable playing with each other. After a relatively rough 1-4 start to the season, her team has rebounded. This reflects the one word they vowed to always live and play by before the season started, that word being unbreakable.
“If you put the time in and you’re committed towards each other, then you’re going to start to achieve goals,” Lokash said.