‘It was a good balancing point’: Strong progress, unanswered questions define Quinnipiac volleyball’s offseason


Alex Bayer

Quinnipiac volleyball beat CCSU in straight sets in the first spring match under head coach Kyle Robinson.

Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

 As cliche as it might sound, most in the sports world understand that championships are won in the offseason. Right now, Quinnipiac volleyball understands that if it wants to defend its MAAC title come November, there is work that needs to be done in April. 

Under the leadership of their new strength and conditioning coach, Olivia Kibrick, the Bobcats are already beginning to show signs of being a much more physically strong squad in 2023 compared to their championship run last year. 

Volleyball’s offseason workout plan changed from twice a week to five times a week, and that extra effort kicked in during the team’s spring exhibition match against CCSU on April 14. Every player on the court seemed to be sending shots at velocities unseen from them in the past. 

The exhibition match was an excellent marker for how the team has progressed since its run to the NCAA tournament back in December. For their first-ever spring exhibition under head coach Kyle Robinson, the Bobcats played a complete match, winning in straight sets (25-18, 25-20, 25-23). 

Even if Burt Kahn Court wasn’t as filled as it usually is during the regular season, the dead air was replaced by the sheer passion exuded by the Bobcats, showing that the team chemistry is still there. 

“It was a good balancing point to see where we’re at right now and what we need to work on for next season,” senior hitter Aryanah Diaz said. “We’ve had our ups and downs, but I think that’s part of what every team goes through.” 

This chemistry is especially important considering 11 of the team’s 13 players from last season are returning, with only graduate student middle blocker Nicole Legg and senior hitter Alisa Mejia graduating. Mejia had an extra year of eligibility due to COVID-19, but chose not to exercise it. 

That level of continuity is rare for a college team, and it comes with special perks when a program pulls it off. 

“It definitely makes trainings a lot more focused because we have a higher level of cohesion,” Robinson said on March 31. “We have a lot of dedicated young athletes, just a dedicated team right now.” 

Heading into the CCSU match, there were two main questions that the Bobcats needed to answer: with Legg graduating, who is going to step up at the middle blocker position, and what will junior setter Chloe Ka’ahanui’s role look like after freshman Damla Gunes’ MAAC All-Rookie campaign last season? 

Those three sets against the Blue Devils did not give complete answers, rather hints at what they could be. 

The MVP of the exhibition match was freshman middle blocker Bailey Brashear. Compared to what she showed in 2022, this was a completely different player. Brashear was strong at the block, hit well and found ways to take advantage of the opportunities the offense generated for her. 

“She did well,” Robinson said. “She’s always been a very good blocker. We’ve been working on some stuff with her attackers. She’s coming around finally.” 

In any other scenario, it might be safe to say that Brashear’s the front runner for the middle blocker spot in 2023, but she was the only one to play against CCSU. Freshman Milena Silva, formerly listed as Milena Martinon, did not play in the match after injuring her ankle during warmups, and junior Lexi Morse was kept out of the lineup with a shoulder injury, according to Diaz. 

As a result, Robinson did not want to draw any conclusions with the season so far out. 

“Right now, I just want to get them all here healthy and then we can see who’s ready to compete,” Robinson said. “If they’re all competing at a really high level, then good for us, because we’ll find a way to play them all.” 

On Ka’ahanui’s end, she and Gunes played a near equal amount in the match. Despite some shaky moments, she generally played well, making it reasonable to assume she might receive the same treatment come August. 

However, the confusion at the setter position comes with the signing of Sophia DeBonis out of Bay Shore, New York. With her addition, Robinson now has three setters on the roster for the first time in his Quinnipiac tenure. However, he assured that this move comes with some roster flexibility. 

“She can also play as a libero,” Robinson said. “So she gets some training there and you see how she develops. She knew she’s coming to a situation with two established setters, which is an uphill battle for a third setter … We’re going to do a good job of training her and getting her to compete at a high level and we’ll see how it shakes out.” 

The team’s only other signee is Cynthia Skenderi of Little Neck, New York, who will play opposite side hitter. With Mejia graduating, this seems like a roster move that will fill out the position for the team moving forward. 

All of these moves amount to an offseason that is crucial for the team’s success heading into what will be a difficult 2023 schedule. With a challenging MAAC slate remaining a constant, Robinson is also back to his ways of scheduling ruthless non-conference opponents. He confirmed on March 31 that the team will play Power Five teams, including Virginia and Virginia Tech, as well as tough mid-major schools such as Fordham and Columbia. 

There’s a long way to go until August, but Quinnipiac volleyball shows the offseason can be just as, if not more active than the season itself. This team’s title defense will be here before you know it.