The Rowan University women’s volleyball team is heading into their third year under head coach Deana Jespersen. A combination of youth and veteran talent surrounds the team as they look to improve from an 11-22 (5-3 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference) 2015 campaign and an early exit from the NJAC Championship Tournament.
Numerous highlights and changes surround the team. Senior team captain Rebecca Dantonio has moved from setter to defensive specialist/libero. Sophomore Erin Keegan returns to the middle, while sophomore Jamie Shirtz makes the transition from middle hitter to outside.
Senior team captain Erica O’Hagan is setting out to fuel the outside attack once again, as she comes back from a 195-kill 2015 season.
When asked about what caught her eye the most in the preseason, Jespersen said that she was impressed with the confidence that the team showed.
“It is something we seemed to have struggled with last year,” Jespersen said. “This is a team that has bonded so quickly. The way that everyone gets along with one another is what makes this team special and rare.”
Rowan’s first challenge of the season was the Labor Day Invitational, a two-day event held in the Esbjornson Gymnasium from Sept. 2-3. The Profs opposed Widener University and Swarthmore College on the first day, with Muhlenberg College and Eastern University following up on day two.
Although they fell to Widener to start the weekend, members of the team only saw things going up from there. The energy and enthusiasm on the court was through the roof, and it is something that the squad looks forward to seeing more of.
“It’s so exciting and I’m so happy to be here hosting this tournament,” O’Hagan said. “We definitely have to work on minimizing our errors, but I’m very happy with how we played. I see things going in a positive direction. This is something you learn from and work on.”
Rowan got off to a fast start against Widener, led by junior middle/outside hitter Gina Kisley and Shirtz with two blocks each. Along with superior blocking came top-notch serving by newcomer Katelyn Paxson, who tallied two service aces.
These are the kind of starts that Dantonio praised and hopes to see more of from her team.
“It’s good to keep your energy up and also know that you’re ahead,” Dantonio said. “It also makes you keep pushing and getting into that first-to-five, first-to-ten, first-to-fifteen mentality.”
Despite the quick start to the game, the brown and gold were not able to overcome inconsistent play, falling to 0-4 to start the year. The team looks to rebound next week at the Dutchmen Quad in Annville, Pennsylvania, where they will play Penn State Altoona, Franklin and Marshall College and Lebanon Valley College.
“Our big thing this year is to stay in the moment. Don’t look ahead, and don’t look behind,” Jespersen said. “What’s the standard for today? What’s the expectation for today? That is what is really important.”
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