Coach Jespersen proud of Rowan volleyball despite struggles

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The Rowan volleyball team made some positive strides after a shaky opening weekend to the season.

Rowan picked up its first two wins of 2016 as part of a .500 week overall, competing at a tournament in Annville, Pennsylvania before commencing New Jersey Athletic Conference play.

At the two-day Dutchmen Quad, the brown and gold took their match against Penn State Altoona on Friday, Sept. 16. Freshman setter Katelyn Paxson had five aces, with senior libero and captain Rebecca Dantonio and junior setter Mary-Grace Testa chipping in four aces each. Senior captain Erica O’Hagan led all players with 15 kills, and Maura Francis and Megan Jacobi added eight kills apiece.

Rowan would fall to 1-6 at the end of the weekend however, being swept by both Franklin and Marshall College and Lebanon Valley College. The Diplomats took three straight sets, 25-19, 25-17 and 25-14, while the Dutchmen also stole a win on straight sets, 26-24, 25-17 and 25-18.

Although they ended up on the short end, head coach Deana Jespersen was proud of her team as they left it all on the court against quality competition. 

“We won and then we lost, but we played really well, I mean extremely well,” Jespersen said. “Those are awesome teams and amazing programs. Both [Marshall and Lebanon Valley] have been very strong over the years. I try to remind the girls that we are trying to build something amazing here and for the long haul.” 

Next on the schedule came the first NJAC match of the season, a meeting with Rutgers-Newark. 

Before the game, O’Hagan noted how the environment of conference play would be more exciting and emotional.

That turned out to be a pretty close summation as the Profs battled through one of their most tense games yet, rallying back for a 3-2 win over Newark.

Rowan now faces a similar stretch with four more matches in five days, closed out on a conference battle against Rutgers-Camden at home. The team first travels to Elizabethtown, Pennsylvania for the Elizabethtown College Quad where they will face the host school, Messiah College and the University of Rochester. Messiah and Rochester boast records of 6-0 and 6-2, respectively. 

Jespersen says she has built a team that can take on this kind of schedule, constructing a roster deep at every position.

“Last year we played in a lot more tournaments. This year we have a lot more quads. It’s a big difference being able to play three games a weekend instead of four,” Jespersen said. “This weekend we took advantage with the depth of the roster by being able to rest players, which is something I’ve really learned to appreciate the longer I coach.”

For a team that features nine total freshmen and sophomores, it’s been a learning process thus far. The handful of upperclassmen aren’t excused from that either. Going forward, the players will have some confidence on the bond they’ve all built.  

“It’s a great feeling knowing we are all a family, and knowing [the upperclassmen] have respect for us,” Jacobi said. “We are all out here teaching each other something new, regardless of our individual experience here.”

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