Volleyball fills holes with talent in recruiting class

Roster additions increase bench depth

Written By Dara Collins, Editor-in-Chief

There are six spots to fill on a volleyball court, and Point Park graduated six athletes last semester that claimed one of those spots for much of last season.

Power hitters Jordan Dixon, Erica Gumz, Ashley Taylor and Destiny Tucker alongside defensive specialist Ali Peterson and libero Morgan Dangelo played their last season and have left their uniforms for new Pioneers.

On the bright side, Tucker didn’t travel far. In fact, she just moved to the sidelines.

Tucker will now serve as the team’s assistant coach beside second-year head coach Bridget Bielich.

“I think the chemistry the returners have with Destiny is so strong that it will be amazing having her as the assistant,” junior middle hitter Jazlyn Rozier said. “I think we all look up to her in a lot of different ways.”

As talent graduates and moves on, new talent steps foot in the Student Center gym. The Pioneers welcome four athletes this season.

“Ariel [Rafferty] is coming back, and she will be a huge help because of her height,” senior setter Julia Menosky said, providing a brief rundown on the new faces. “She’s really good at getting on top of the ball. Taylor [Small] is an incoming freshman who is very versatile. She has so much power hitting a ball, but also can play defense and set.”

Small is young but talented, according to Associate Director of Athletics and Director of Athletic Communication Kevin Taylor. Taylor said she has the potential to be a backup at multiple positions if not earn a spot as a starter.

“Adapting is really just your mindset,” Small said. “If you’re going to be hitting, focus on the swing. Setting is getting the ball in the right place for the hitter, and passing is just
being aware of what’s happening so you don’t let the ball drop.”

The second half of the recruiting class appears just as talented, according to Menosky.

“Michaela [Shevell] is a sweet defensive specialist and has a ton of grit playing in the back row,” Menosky said. “Maria [Ferragonio] is a transfer setter from Eastern Kentucky, and she will be a huge help with her knowledge of the game and being able to play multiple positions if need be.”

Returning to the team are decorated players Menosky and Camryn LaMonaca At the 2018 River States Conference (RSC) Volleyball Championship, Menosky was named to the All-RSC
Second Team and LaMonaca, a junior outside hitter, was named Point Park’s Champion of Character.

Seniors Brittney Bianco and Haley English, juniors Rozier and Jada Jones and sophomore Ashley Castelli join the returning squad as key parts to the lineup. The roster also returns outside hitters Abby Miller, Kristy Lippert and Madison Sima.

“The returning players are all really confident in one another’s ability which is a huge advantage,” Rozier said. “It’s hard being on a team where you don’t trust or feel confident with the person on the court next to you. All of the returners have so much talent as well as the newcomers.”

The Pioneers have not advanced to the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) Championship since 2016 when they proceeded despite a quarterfinals loss because of their No. 1 RSC seed status.

Since then, they suffered two more consecutive losses in the quarterfinal round and hope 2019 will be the streak-breaking season.

“Although we have a three-year losing streak, that isn’t stopping us from anything this year,” Rozier said. “I don’t think there is anything we need to change, more so it’s a mindset. We all need to have the same mindset going into the season and we will dominate.”

The Pioneers opened their season at the Michigan-Dearborn Early Bird Tournament on Aug. 23-24. Point Park finished the season-opening weekend with a 3-1 record, sweeping two of four opponents.

With one preseason tournament under their belts, the Pioneers will play in the Emileigh Cooper Memorial Tournament in Rio Grande, Ohio, this weekend before their first regular season game at Washington and Jefferson on Sept. 10.

Following the Presidents, another week of practice lies ahead of the Pioneers in preparation for their first home game on Sept. 17 against Salem International University. Point Park will then open RSC play at Carlow University on Sept. 24.

“I’m so excited for this season,” Menosky said. “The returners have been playing together for a couple years now, and we’re all so close off the court that I think it will help us on the court as well. We have all the talent and pieces to make it far this year, and I’m excited to make it happen.”

Even the fresh faces feel the connection within the team.

“I’m stoked to be a college volleyball player, but [I look forward to] just being really close with the team and having fun playing the sport I love,” Small said.