Volleyball team welcomes fresh, familiar faces

First-year coaching staff and newcomers provide new opportunities for Pioneers


Photo by Gracey Evans

Senior Ashley Taylor sets the ball during a 2017 contest in the Student Center Gym. The Volleyball team holds a 1-3 record and will compete in the Emileigh Cooper Memorial Tournament this weekend in Rio Grande, Oh.

Written By Dara Collins, Co-Sports Editor

The volleyball team kicked off the 2018 season with new players, new coaches and new milestones.

The 2017 squad saw many new faces as only four women returned from the previous season. 13 women suited up in green and gold for the first time last season.

This year, the Pioneers added five newcomers to their roster: freshmen Ashley Castelli, Madison Sima and Ariel Rafferty, sophomore Kristy Lippert and junior Brittany Bianco.

Castelli, a defensive specialist, surprised members of the team with her performance and adjustment to college ball during preseason.

“I have more of an open mind, and I’m just excited to play,” Castelli said. “Any time I can touch a ball, I just want to. I’m not as nervous… I came into it like ‘I’m ready,’ so I think having a good mindset is the key.”

Sima and Rafferty will add depth to the outside and middle, respectively. Lippert may switch between outside and right side this season and Bianco will join veteran setter Julia Menosky.

New captains were named by the team based on preseason performance, according to assistant coach Shiloh Simonson. Menosky and seniors Jordan Dixon and Erica Gumz will lead the 2018 squad.

The new skills from newcomers and known skills from returning members will create a competition for the limited six positions on the court, according to senior right side hitter Ashley Taylor.

Aside from the team, the coaching staff changed slightly since last season. Mike Bruno coached the women’s volleyball team since 2005 and was the program’s all-time winningest coach. In 2016, he was named the Rivers States Conference Coach of the Year. One year later, he was fired.

Bridget Bielich served as the assistant coach since 2015 under Bruno before filling in as the interim head coach for the end of the 2017 season. Bielich was officially named head coach in January and will now coach the women for her first full season.

Although Bielich utilizes different strategies than Bruno, the returning members believe she is adjusting well to her role.

“Coach B knows what she’s talking about and she knows what she wants,” Taylor said.

A familiar face helped fill Bielich’s old shoes. 2016 RSC Player of the Year Simonson returned to her old stomping grounds as the Pioneers’ assistant coach.

“I was hoping to broaden my horizons, maybe get into sports, so I actually just asked [Coach B] out to kind of pick her brain about how she got involved…and halfway through dinner, we kind of talked about it, and she offered me the position,” Simonson said.

A few returning members have played with Simonson in the past.

“It was kind of a hard transition to look at her as a coach and not as a teammate,” Taylor said. “I think it’s good for us because she still has that high volleyball IQ, and she has the high skill set to help us, so I think her and Coach B together are good.”

The fresh squad played its first competition last weekend at the University of Michigan-Dearborn Early Bird Challenge.

The women suffered two losses last Friday to Lawrence Technological University and Spring Arbor University. They split the following day and topped Columbia International University 3-0 and dropped a match to (20) Madonna University 0-3.

“We have a lot of potential, we have a lot of talent and if we can just put it all together and become one team, I think that is what we’re most excited about,” Simonson said.

Although the Pioneers left the tournament with only one win, the team had more to celebrate.

Taylor surpassed the 1,000-career kills milestone, and libero Morgan Dangelo collected more than her 1,000-career digs.

“The feeling was overwhelming and amazing to know that I’ve had that much of an effect for the team,” Taylor said. “I have busted my butt to get this, and I couldn’t have done it without all my teammate and coaches who have helped me along the way…I have plenty more goals set for myself, and this is only one stop along the way to the finish line.”

The finish line for this season is a national championship title.

Point Park advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) opening round for three consecutive years until last season when the team lost in the RSC Tournament Quarterfinals to Asbury University. The Pioneers finished last season 21-14 overall and 10-6 in RSC play.

“I know in the past we’ve made the national tournament but never seemed to pass the first game there, so I think number one on our list would be furthering into the national tournament this year,” Simonson said.

The Pioneers will head to Rio Grande, Ohio this weekend for the Emileigh Cooper Memorial Tournament. The team finished 1-3 in the same tournament last year.

Point Park will begin conference play and compete in their first home match on Sept. 14, against Indiana University East.