In 2018, the Penn State Altoona women's volleyball team went 8-18 overall and placed fifth in the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference standings with a 5-4 record. It was a down year by the program's standards, and head coach Phil Peterman thinks that this season's squad can get the team back to the upper tier of the AMCC standings.
Peterman knows that it will take a team effort to improve on last year's finish, and so far, the 12th-year coach is happy with what he has seen.
"The most important thing that I'm seeing right now is their team-first attitudes," Peterman said. "I haven't seen any 'me' attitudes throughout the preseason, however, I am seeing a lot of 'we.'"
Leading the way for the Lady Lions will be a group of seven returning players from last season. Two highlights from that group are senior outside hitter Lauren Diller (Chambersburg, PA/Chambersburg) and senior setter Emily Bryan (Waynesboro, PA/Waynesboro), who were each named "Players to Watch" in the 2019 AMCC Preseason Coaches' Poll.
Diller returns to Penn State Altoona after spending 2018 at University Park. In her sophomore season in Fall 2017, Diller was a first team All-AMCC pick after ranking fourth in the conference in kills (271), fifth in points (309.5) and points per set (3.1), and sixth in kills per set (2.74). Bryan enters her fourth year with the program ready to lead the Lady Lions' offense. In her previous three years, she has amassed 1,151 assists (3.98 assists per set) while chipping in 619 digs (2.14 digs per set).
Other returners that Peterman expects will make an impact this season include sophomore middle hitter Alexis Cannistraci (Tyrone, PA/Tyrone), junior opposite hitter Velanna Skripek (Moshannon, PA/Bald Eagle), and junior right side hitter Tara Ryan (Waldwick, NJ/Waldwick).
"Our group of returners this year brings great leadership and is creating a competitive atmosphere in the gym," said Peterman. "Emily is a vocal leader on the court and does a great job setting our big hitters. Lauren and Alexis bring court awareness, power at the net, and provide us with a big block in the middle. Vee is doing a great job hitting and passing, both in the outside and right side positions. Finally, Tara brings her intensity to the court and provides big blocks on the right side."
Peterman also points to six freshmen he believes can have significant roles on the team this season: outside hitter Lydia Mock (New Paris, PA/Chestnut Ridge), outside hitter Jenna Bauer (Ebensburg, PA/Central Cambria), libero/setter Lexie Dorcan (Berlin, PA/Berlin Brothersvalley), setter Kayla Moran (Boalsburg, PA/State College), middle hitter Sara Russo (Lebanon, PA/Cedar Crest), and opposite/outside hitter Lilia Farach (Panama City, Panama/International School of Panama).
"Lydia and Jenna are passing well and providing put-away kills from the outside position. Their defense and back row play are top notch, as well," Peterman explained. "Lexie is anchoring the defense as a libero, making athletic and outstanding plays. Kayla will help Emily out with the setting duties and does a great job of dishing out assists. Sara is very tall and long at the net, hitting over people in both the middle and outside. Lilia brings a huge block, powerful swings, and a wicked top spin serve to the team."
With talent in both the upperclassmen and underclassmen groups, Peterman believes that the competition will ultimately breed success for his team.
"No one's job is safe with the group of new people we've brought in, and we may be able to play certain people in certain situations based on our opponents," he said. "The newcomers are going to provide a major spark to this team and see significant playing time this season."
While Peterman's team has not lacked firepower offensively the past several years, it has sometimes been plagued by inconsistent defense. This is a point of focus for the squad as it approaches the beginning of the regular season, and Peterman hopes that it can become a strength for the team this fall.
"This team needs to continue to work on team defense and passing. We need to be a defensive team that just frustrates opponents with our will to put bodies on the floor and not let balls drop on our side of the net," he stated. "I know we have the swings to get kills, however, defense wins championships."
Overall, Peterman is optimistic about this team's prospects for the 2019 season. With what he sees as a good balance of team chemistry and skill, he believes his squad could be poised for a successful season.
"This is one of the best groups of young ladies I've ever had the opportunity to coach," Peterman said. "Their passion and positive attitudes shine through on a daily basis, and they bring height, power, passing, and defense to the court."
Penn State Altoona women's volleyball opens its 2019 season at home this Saturday, August 31 with a tri-match against non-conference opponent Chatham University and non-NCAA opponent Penn State Shenango in the Adler Auxiliary Gym. The Lady Lions will face Chatham at 12:00 p.m. before playing Shenango in an exhibition match at 4:00 p.m.