To say the women’s volleyball team is going through a youth movement would be an understatement.
Nine of the team’s 12 players are underclassmen, and seven of those nine underclassmen are freshmen — five of whom played in the season-opening Bomber Invitational Sept. 7-8. This year’s Bombers squad is counting on its younger players to provide key contributions at every position and in every aspect of the game, both offensive and defensive.
The team’s starting lineup includes two freshmen, middle blocker Christine Flannery and setter Carly Garone, with libero/setter Dylan Gawinski Stern also seeing extended minutes.
Head Coach Janet Donovan said she usually prefers to avoid rushing new players into matches. However, with so much turnover from last year’s team, not to mention a head injury to sophomore middle blocker Brittany Pietrzykowski in the Bomber Invitational, Donovan had to change that approach this season. So far, she said she likes what she is seeing from this year’s newcomers.
“Christine and Carly have been a wonderful addition, where they have been able to contribute in the starting lineup right away,” Donovan said. “Usually with the freshmen, you like to wait and get them a little experience before they start. These three have been thrown in the fire, and they’re doing really well.”
The numbers the Bombers’ newcomers have recorded during the first few weeks of the 2012 season have been impressive. In her first eight games, Garone registered 21 kills, a team-high 190 assists and 33 digs. Flannery had 46 kills, 11 assists and eight blocks while playing in all 30 sets so far this season.
Outside hitter and team co-captain Marissa Weil, who is the only senior on this year’s roster, said she is impressed by Flannery and Garone’s aggressive play.
“Both Carly and Christine have been very good at not being timid or holding back,” Weil said. “They portray leadership on and off the court, regardless of what year they are in school.”
Garone said one of the reasons why she, Flannery and the other freshmen have been able to adapt to the college game so quickly is because the team makes sure its roles are fairly defined. This is a practice that is not as common in the high school game.
“Everyone just kind of knows their role,” Garone said. “We coach ourselves through a lot of things. We fix ourselves, and we help each other out a lot more.”
Flannery said the defined roles have made it easier to develop a rapport with the rest of her teammates.
“We pick each other up; we’re there for each other,” Flannery said. “Even though we’ve just started playing with each other for less than a month, we already know each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and how to help each other out.”
Even though Flannery and Garone have seen more playing time so far than the other six freshmen on the team, Flannery said that the transition to playing the college game has been easier simply because most of her teammates are making that transition right alongside her.
“We’re all going through it together — it’s more than half the team,” she said. “We’re really young, but we’re all experiencing it and growing as a team.”