ANA SANTOS / THE EAGLE
More than a dozen contributors return from last year’s AU volleyball team that won the Patriot League Championship, but two of the most important positions on the court are now occupied by newcomers — creating a mix of potential and uncertainty.
This juxtaposition was evident as AU split its first two matches of the season in an Aug. 24 loss to Georgetown (3-0) in the Bender Blue Out and an Aug. 25 victory against George Mason (3-0).
While the Eagles return 2011 Patriot League Player of the Year Sara Rishell, 2011 All-Patriot League First Team selection Juliana Crum and 2011 Patriot League Scholar-Athlete of the Year Rebecca Heath, they also add transfer Kylann Scheidt and freshman Allison Cappellino as their new setter and libero, respectively.
“Who handles the first ball that comes over the net? The libero. Who gets every second ball? Our setter,” head coach Barry Goldberg said. “So you’re talking about giving the first two balls to two brand new players with our team. [Those positions] gotta be a big part of our success.”
Scheidt and Cappellino will make an important impact on how AU fares this season, which was shown by the results of the Eagles’ first two matches. Due in part to Scheidt and Cappellino’s improved ability to control the ball and set up hitters, AU went from tallying just a .085 hitting percentage and 30 kills against Georgetown to recording a .269 hitting percentage and 45 kills against George Mason.
“It was a little rough at first in our first game, but even that one game made a ton of difference because we came out the next day and Kylann was running the court and Allison was controlling the back row really well,” Rishell said. “It was going really smoothly.”
In that second match against George Mason, Cappellino recorded 19 digs and Scheidt racked up 35 assists. Both players were later named to the D.C. Challenge All-Tournament Team, AU’s only selections.
The Eagles only graduated one player last year — setter Alexandra Hammer — but 2011 All-Patriot League Second Team selection sophomore setter Monika Smidova suffered a torn ACL during the offseason, leading her to redshirt this year.
Despite the two key losses, AU looks poised to make another NCAA Tournament appearance and win the Patriot League Championship for the 11th time in 12 years. The big question for the Eagles could be how well the returning starters gel with the newcomers while continuing their own development.
“Replacing those two has been a big change in terms of how the ball is coming off,” Crum said.
AU will now go on a nine-game, 16-day road trip beginning Aug. 31 against Stony Brook in the Yale Classic. The Eagles return to Bender Arena Sept. 19 for a match against Coppin State.