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The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

The Student News Site of Quinnipiac University

The Quinnipiac Chronicle

Volleyball preparing to beat the odds

Quinnipiac Athletics
Quinnipiac defeated Morgan St. in straight sets on Aug. 26.

Heavy are the heads that share the crown. 

In 2022, Quinnipiac volleyball went on a run for the ages, winning nine out of 10 matches to finish the regular season. The Bobcats then won another three in the MAAC tournament, including a 3-1 upset over top-ranked Fairfield in the title game, resulting in the program’s first conference championship and NCAA tournament berth. 

Despite the Bobcats’ late-season dominance and the return of 10 out of 13 players from last year’s campaign, it was not enough to earn sole possession of No. 1 in the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Quinnipiac shares that spot with Marist, with both receiving three first-place votes. 

Marist finished second in the MAAC in 2022, but were beaten in straight sets by Rider in the first round of the MAAC Tournament, a team that Quinnipiac defeated handily the next day. 

“I don’t think we deserved to be tied,” graduate student hitter Aryanah Diaz said. “I think that we’ve put in a lot of hard work and effort into making ourselves known to certain people and to be tied with a school like Marist, we were taken aback.” 

Head coach Kyle Robinson was indifferent to the result.

“We do just fine with our own opinions of ourselves,” Robinson said.

With the team’s brightest stars returning, their opinions of themselves will do just fine. Diaz is back, as well as MAAC All-Rookie setter Damla Gunes and sophomore hitter Ginevra Giovagnoni, who was named to the Preseason All-MAAC team alongside Diaz.

Other players, like junior hitter Alexandra Tennon, are looking to break out during the Bobcats’ title defense. Tennon is likely in the best position to have a break-out year after a decent 2022 season that started red-hot and then cooled down as summer turned to fall.

“(Tennon) put in a lot of good work in the spring and she’s been able to develop into a completely different player,” Diaz said. “She’s now able to play in the back rows. She’s swinging in a different way from the front row … And I think she’s putting in a lot of work to change the way that she played from last year.”

Despite the abundance of on-court talent, this season’s squad will be without key depth players. Sophomore middle blocker Milena Silva and senior setter Chloe Ka’ahanui are both out for the season due to injury. 

Silva was looking to earn her way into the middle blocker rotation after a freshman year where she saw minimal time on the court, and Ka’ahanui was set to return to the heights she reached during her sophomore season in 2021, where she led the team in assists.

However, the two have found ways to remain active in team activities and show their support.

“They’re very team-oriented people,” Diaz said. “You never really feel like they’re gone. Even when they’re not in the gym, and they’re doing (physical) therapy. … So we definitely feel their presence, even though they’re not on the court with us.”

The team is also losing would-be sophomore hitter Giorgia Donghi, who Robinson said is stepping away from the program to pursue a medical degree in her home country of Italy. 

Donghi was coming off an up-and-down freshman season, with her most notable performance coming against Canisius on Sept. 18, 2022, where she racked up 20 kills on .625 hitting, two aces, 10 digs and five total blocks.

The players that left have been replaced by four newcomers, which include three freshmen, setter Sophia DeBonis and hitters Leilani-kai Giusta and Cynthia Skenderi, as well as one transfer sophomore from Vincennes University, middle blocker Tuana Turhan. All have received high praise from the team.

“They’re great young talents,” Robinson said. “They have a lot of heart and fight. They might have a lot to learn, but they fit well into our group and they’re only going to get better.”

Non-conference play has been interesting for the Bobcats so far. At the Hokie Invitational in Blacksburg, Virginia, the weekend of Aug. 25, the team went 1-2, defeating Morgan State in straight sets, but falling to Virginia Tech in straight sets and Furman in five sets. 

The main takeaway from the weekend was that Quinnipiac was severely outmatched in front of the net, being out blocked 29 to 10 across the three matches.

The team went 1-2 the next weekend as well at the Columbia Invitational in New York, losing to Virginia and Fordham, but defeating the hosts Columbia.

Height will likely play a factor for the Bobcats this season. The graduation of 6-foot-3-inch Nicole Legg now leaves no player on the team standing higher than 6 foot, 1 inch (Turhan). This is the first time since 2009 that the team’s tallest player was less than 6 feet, 2 inches. 

The newcomers saw minimal action across the opening weekend, with only Giusta stepping on the court. She accumulated only four kills on -.174 hitting in three sets against Virginia Tech. However, while at Columbia, she dominated, racking up 46 kills and 22 digs across the three matches, and now leads the team in kills per set with 3.57. For the performance, Giusta earned MAAC Rookie of the Week honors.

While DeBonis, Turhan and Skenderi all made their debuts, none played enough to make reasonable conclusions on their game.

The team will be back in action this weekend at the Henson Hawk Invitational hosted by the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. The real action begins however on Sept. 16 when the Bobcats face off against Niagara to open up MAAC play. 

What will matter most for this squad is whether or not it can produce a hot start. In 2021, Quinnipiac started 4-6 in conference play before finishing 9-9, and the 2022 championship team started an even worse 2-7 before finishing 10-8. 

Finishing strong is great, but the MAAC Tournament is only admitting the top six teams this year, down from all 10 in 2022 and the top eight in 2021, so every match matters more than usual. 

Quinnipiac volleyball has always been a program that’s worked to beat the odds when there is no one believing that they can. In 2021, the squad showed there was potential. In 2022, they showed it was possible. In 2023, it is up to them to show they can do it again. 

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Michael LaRocca
Michael LaRocca, Opinion Editor

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