High hopes for ladies

High+hopes+for+ladies

Asha Njeri

Outside hitters sophomore Marissa Erminio serves the ball to freshman Delaney Roman during practice last Thursday.

Bobby Scott, Sports Editor

Pitt-Johnstown women’s volleyball team opened the season over the weekend like they never have before, as defending champions.

Along with defending the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference crown comes a bigger target on the back of the Lady Cats as they were picked to win the East Division in the coaches’ preseason poll.

Second year head coach Joanna Haupt has been preparing her team for the rocky road ahead that is defending a championship.

A team that will be looking to knock off the champs once more is Shippensburg University, a team that beat the Lady Cats three times last season, including a national championship tournament first round loss that ended Pitt-Johnstown’s Cinderella season.

“With any team that has a successful season, there is going to be a bigger target on your back,” Haupt said.

“Last year, other teams in the conference did not respect us because we were new, and I think we opened a lot of eyes (last year), but that is not something we are thinking about right now.”

The team already had to deal with adversity before the season even started when outside hitter Kelsey Shanabrook announced at the beginning of August she will not be playing her senior season due to multiple concussions.

“I have had around four concussions and very bad symptoms from getting them,” she said.  “I cannot risk getting hit again and having more issues now or later in my life.”

The Lady Cats go into the season with a lot of new faces.  Only seven of the 13 student athletes who were not seniors returned to this year’s team.

Haupt recruited the biggest freshmen class the team had since the 2011 season.

“We only have five returning starters from last year and we have eight very talented freshmen,” she said.

“We are going to have a different team this year, they are going to be very young and a little bit inexperienced.”

Haupt added that the change the team has gone through in the offseason has been all positive.

“All the players that we have want to be here, and they all have the drive and determination (obtain) the goals they want to reach for,” she said.

Out-of-state freshmen Kendall Mahony (Yorktown, Va.) and Devan Orr (Carol Stream, Ill.) are expected to have playing time this season to fill the void of last year’s seniors.

The five returning starters will be a crucial part of the Lady Cats’ success this season; there are two seniors, four sophomores and a lone junior, right side hitter Larissa Swank.

“We worked just as hard as we did last offseason to get where we are now,” Swank said.

“There is a lot of pressure on us from last year, but we are ready to start the season and see what we can do.”

Swank totaled 122 points and 94 kills, while playing 103 sets last season but is expected to see more playing time.

One of the most integral parts of this season’s team is all-conference outside hitter, sophomore Marissa Erminio.

Erminio led the team in points (547) and kills (496) as a freshman last season.

“This team has a much tighter bond than last year,” Erminio said.  “Everyone has their head in the game and is ready to play, we have some really aggressive freshmen.”