Volleyball hits the road and digs in

By Marissa Masano

The Youngstown State University volleyball team hit the road for the first time this season to take on the University of Toledo, University of Memphis and Virginia Tech at the Toledo Invitational. 

The first game took place Aug. 31 inside Savage Hall Arena against Toledo. The two teams last met at the Blue and Gold Tournament during the 2021 season, where the Rockets swept the Penguins 3-0.

The Penguin defense had a strong showing, which allowed them to earn their first road victory. The team won the second and fourth set by a two-point margin and only allowed the Rockets to take the third set, 28-26. Graduate student Isidora Sisic led the team with 21 digs, while sophomore Julia Sell accumulated six blocks. 

On the offensive side of the ball, graduate student Josi Borum led the team with 23 assists while earning herself an impressive stat line of 16 kills in 31 swings. Borum secured her second-straight triple-double, and junior Jazmin Vergara registered a double-double. 

On the second day of the Toledo Invitational, the lady ‘Guins defeated Memphis in five sets. The second straight victory for the Penguins was highlighted by a strong performance once again from Vergara, along with freshman Gabriela Machin. 

Machin had a career-high 14 kills on 24 attempts while being involved with three of the ‘Guins seven blocks. For head coach Aline Scott, Machin’s impactful performance showed the Penguins’ depth, especially in their younger players.

“We suffered an injury that day to someone else in that position, and Gabriella stepped in and did more than what we could have hoped for,” Scott said. 

Sisic led the team with 21 digs and had all three of the team’s aces. Borum, however, could not continue her triple-double streak as she was one kill shy. Regardless, she finished the game with 18 digs, nine kills and led the team with 28 assists. 

During a decisive fifth set, the Penguins fell behind 2-0 until Sisic’s second serve made it 3-2. The team never trailed again and had three game-point opportunities. They capitalized on the third match point because of Memphis’ wide serve on the final point. After this victory, Youngstown put themselves in a position to win the Toledo Invitational in its matchup against Virginia Tech. 

In the championship game against Virginia Tech, the Penguins rallied in each set but were not able to claim victory in any of them. The Hokies swept the Penguins 3-0. 

The Penguins were within one against their ACC opponents late in the first set. However, the Hokies took the following three points and won 25-21. The lady ‘Guins started strong in the second set, but after a 9-9 tie, the Guins lost the lead and never regained it. In the final set, Youngstown’s formation switched to a 5-1 offense as the Hokies closed out the tournament. 

The lady ‘Guins took home second, and Vergara and Borum represented Youngstown State on the All-Tournament Team. Throughout the weekend, Borum averaged 5.73 assists, 2.82 digs and 2.73 kills per set. 

Vergara averaged 3.82 kills and had 3.18 digs per set throughout the tournament. She is now fourth in points and third in kills in the Horizon League after the Toledo Invitational. For Vergara, her recent successes with her new team come naturally due to the preparation of the Penguins in the pre-season. 

“I feel like I spend a lot of time with the girls. We had been practicing without the coaches before and there were a lot of players who were like leaders trying to get the newcomers feel welcomed,” Vergara said.

The team will now set its sights on Florida Atlantic’s Owls Paradise Classic in Boca Raton, Florida. For Scott, this last invitational is another chance to improve as the team inches closer to Horizon League play. 

“We are trying to find our rhythm, we are trying to find our starting rotation, we are trying to set the tone,” Scott said.

Opening day of the tournament, Sep. 8, will feature matchups against Bethune-Cookman University and Florida Atlantic University. The Penguins will look to close out the weekend against the University of the Incarnate Word on Sept. 9.

To watch the game, check out ESPN+ and for stats, highlights and more, visit ysusports.com.