Quinnipiac volleyball ready to make the jump

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

Most people are aware that Quinnipiac is a hockey institution. This is true. However, from August through November, the most exciting team on campus resides within the caverns of Burt Kahn Court.

Quinnipiac volleyball is coming off one of its most exciting seasons in recent memory. The Bobcats upset Marist in the MAAC Quarterfinals, reaching the conference semifinal for the second time under head coach Kyle Robinson and just the third time in program history.

Prior to Robinson’s tenure, the program was rather unsuccessful, with only one winning season at the Division I level before he arrived in 2019.

While Robinson hasn’t yet brought the team above a .500 winning percentage under his leadership, his squad’s recent postseason success has them poised for a breakout season in 2022. The Bobcats were ranked third in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, receiving one of 10 first-place votes. The other nine were given to in-state rival Fairfield.

These expectations gave the team a different feeling heading into the season, the first without any real COVID-related restrictions since 2019.

“It’s so much better to be honest with you from a lot of different perspectives,” Robinson said. “We’re not in that stranglehold of COVID. Right now, it doesn’t feel like it at least, so that’s great.”

Seven players from last year’s squad are returning, including All-MAAC First Team middle blocker Nicole Legg, who decided to return to Hamden for her graduate student season.

Other upperclassmen, like senior hitter Aryanah Diaz and junior setter Chloe Ka’ahanui, will look to thrive in more substantial leadership roles, especially on a team with six freshmen.

“We don’t allow you to come here and be passive,” Robinson said. “You’re not going to come here and be a floater, just kind of hanging around. So in their own little way, they’ve all stepped into a role where they take the lead on some things.”

Some freshmen, however, already stepped up into the spotlight of Division I competition, with hitter Ginevra Giovagnoni being awarded MAAC Player of the Week honors for her performance during the team’s opening weekend at a mini-tournament hosted by Stony Brook.

“I think her performance was amazing,” Robinson said. “To have to carry us as a freshman in our opening weekend is not an easy task. So she did an excellent job, I would say she started off a little bit shaky, but got her feet underneath there pretty quickly and was pretty satisfied with her performance.”

Another freshman of note heading into the thick of the season is setter Damla Gunes. In the team’s five-set loss to Fordham on August 27, the Turkey native recorded 55 assists, six shy of the single-game program record of 61. Despite the near-historic performance in her second collegiate match, Gunes was unsatisfied.

“You try to practice so hard to get to this level,” Gunes said. “I just want to be my best. And I know I can do better. 55 assists in five sets is not that much. I can do better.”

Gunes had to wait for a better performance, though, as she played in just three sets and accumulated 18 assists during the team’s weekend at the Delaware State Invitational. The Bobcats went 1-1 in that tournament, defeating Hartford in four sets and losing to Delaware State in straight sets.

However, her and the rest of the team will have plenty of time to improve and regroup before beginning conference play Sept. 17. The MAAC itself has found itself in an interesting position in 2022, deciding to allow all 10 teams to play in the conference tournament, compared to only six teams allowed in 2021.

“I understand what they’re doing,” Robinson said. “I think as long as the tournament is structured well, and not taxing teams, especially the teams who have fought all season and been at the top for so long. As you’re not taxing those teams, I think it’s an okay move.”

With all of the talent arriving for the Bobcats in 2022, along with the experience the upperclassmen can provide for their younglings, the sky is truly the limit. I reiterate, Burt Kahn Court is going to be a special place this fall. I hope you saved your seat.