By Joshua Fitch
Confidence was echoed from the Youngstown State University volleyball team despite coming off a season in which the team finished just 7-22.
The Penguins began the 2018 season with a red-hot start, winning the first three matches of the season, and five of the first seven matches.
“We had all of the key elements,” said Alexia Byrnes, freshman setter for the Penguins. “We had all of our skill and everything was showing, so it was looking to be a great season.”
As the season pressed on, so did the workouts, matches and travel. While every team has to go through the difficulties of a long season, for a team with so many newcomers including four freshmen, things began to unravel.
“We had several injuries and sickness,” Byrnes said. “So, I think that was the beginning of our downfall. We did not stop trying.”
Byrnes was a redshirt freshman in 2018 after sitting out a year with the University of Louisville volleyball program the year prior. Now, with her first year in the books in Youngstown, she understands what such a long and tough season does to a team, and what needs to change.
“I think it was eye opening,” she said. “What does our class need to do to improve in future seasons … We’re going to make sure that [the incoming freshman are] doing more than what we did. It’s going to be a really great chain.”
In the meantime, Byrnes added, “I plan on doing everything I can next season to make sure we don’t lose a match. I plan on going to the Horizon League tournament, and hopefully get a chance to play in the NCAA tournament just because it would be so great for this program.”
Byrnes isn’t making any promises, but believes a change in attitude must occur for these things to even have a chance of happening.
“It was a bad season, and it’ll be better in the future. I’m not worried about it,” Byrnes said.
While the players get a short amount of rest right after a season is completed, there’s no time off for coaches, especially for head coach Aline Scott.
Scott, in her first year with the Penguins, said there were a lot of things that played into last season. While there was some good, her job as head coach is to eliminate as much bad as possible and figure out exactly what went wrong.
“That’s what we’re assessing now,” Scott said. “Through the whole thing, I thought we had a chance to compete every match and we just didn’t. A lot of it was mental, a lot of it was what I think what we expected of ourselves. I wish we had expected more, we would’ve given more.”
There were some positives towards the end of the season. Scott said looking ahead and acknowledging the growth that was taking place was very important, even if it didn’t show up in the win column.
“To me it was everything,” she said. “Once we mathematically knew we couldn’t get into conference play, all I cared about was creating momentum going into the offseason. We’ve made some progress and looking ahead to getting better in the spring. It was everything I thought about.”
A new tone is in the works with the spring already right around the corner. Spring play includes four tournaments for the Penguins.
These tournaments don’t amount to wins and losses, they’re simply put in place to get teams in each conference a chance to improve skills in a game setting rather than just a continuous practice setting. The Penguins host two tournaments this year.
“It was a learning experience,” Scott said. “They know what it feels like to lose this much. We’re going to do whatever it takes to not be in this position again. That’s the value of having such a tough season, is to go through the pain and not be okay with it.”
Not to be forgotten in a tough season are the two seniors graduating at the end of this year: Sarah Varcolla and Morgan Tippie — two players Aline Scott was very high on, and two players who will have left their mark on YSU volleyball going forward as the team gets ready for a turnaround effort in 2019.