2016 Volleyball Preview: Bouncing Back – Croup’s Corner

Written By Josh Croup, Sports Columnist, Editor-in-Chief

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CornerThings weren’t ideal at the start of 2015 for the Point Park volleyball team.

The Pioneers dropped their first nine games and were 3-11 after their first 14 contests last year.

Point Park did turn its season around, winning eight of its next nine and finishing with a 17-24 record and 9-3 conference record, good enough for a third-place finish in the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC).

Well, things haven’t been ideal so far this year either.

Point Park started 2016 in a strikingly similar fission to that of 2015. After winning its first match against Life University in five sets, Point Park dropped its next 10 contests and entered this week with a 3-12 record.

Point Park begins conference play this weekend at home with a pair of matches against Indiana University East and Indiana University Kokomo.

Let’s backtrack to last season.

Those two teams the Pioneers play this weekend were also the two teams that finished above them in the 2015 KIAC standings. The three were each ranked in the top three of the 2016 River States Conference Volleyball Preseason Coaches’ Poll, with IU Kokomo the consensus top pick and Point Park in the No. 2 slot.

Kokomo took care of business last year in the KIAC, finishing 11-1 in conference play en route to a KIAC Tournament championship victory over Point Park. Its only KIAC loss came against IU East in the regular season.

After Point Park bounced back from its rough start and took care of business in the KIAC, the Pioneers’ runner-up finish in the KIAC Tournament allowed them to punch their ticket to their second straight National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) national tournament.

Point Park looks to reach the NAIA national tournament now for the fourth time in six years, and for the third straight year. The Pioneers turned their season around last year once they got into the thick of conference play.

If they want any shot at returning to the NAIA national tournament in 2016, they’ll have to string together a similar stretch of wins in their imminent conference matches.

We saw glimpses of the Pioneers’ potential at the Battle of the Boulevard Tournament, where the team went 2-2 on the weekend. Point Park’s victories both came in three sets over Siena Heights University and Montreat College.

Point Park turned to its seniors for that weekend in the Student Center Gym for a pair of wins, and the Pioneers will look to their seniors for leadership and more wins from this point forward.

Shiloh Simonson leads the Pioneers 2016 campaign with a jump serve that landed her among the NAIA leaders in aces in past years. She entered 2016 with 874 kills and 1,150 digs, looking to climb the Point Park all-time leaderboards.

Middle hitter Nikki Inquartano is also back for her senior year as the tallest player on the Pioneers’ roster at 6 feet 2 inches tall. Emily Meng and Madison Weldon lead at the setter position for their senior seasons.

Ashley Taylor is back for her second season in a Pioneer uniform after sitting out last year. She ranked second on the team in 2014 with 313 kills en route to an all-conference selection. Kirsten Burkes played for Point Park from 2010-12 and returns for her final season of eligibility in the back row as she enters grad school.

The Pioneers also return a healthy defensive specialist Morgan Dangelo, who only played 23 matches in 2015 due to injury. Juliana Ross returns to the back row for her junior season.

Fresh faces hope to contribute to a winning season for the Pioneers this year. Julia Menosky, who graduated Bishop Canevin High School last year with a WPIAL and state title on her resume, joins the Pioneers as a setter and defensive specialist.

The Pioneers also added defensive specialist Courtney List from Sierra Catholic and outside hitter Madeline Poirier, a Seneca Valley High School product.

The rest of the 2016 Point Park volleyball season is hard to forecast considering the outcome of last season. Each of the last two years started similarly, with last year ending at the NAIA National Tournament.

Will the Pioneers find their groove when they hit conference play this weekend, or will their struggles continue?

Head coach Mike Bruno enters his 12th season with the Pioneers with the 15th-most wins among active NAIA volleyball head coaches. His team didn’t quit last year when it was down.

You can bet his roster of 11 players won’t quit either.