With the Mean Green volleyball team looking to close their final games of non-conference play, a group of underclassmen players have taken on leadership roles after seeing playing time in the 2018 campaign as freshmen and sophomores. Of the ten players that returned this year, two are now sophomores, four juniors, and two seniors.
Head coach Andrew Palileo said he is confident this squad can pick up where they left off in 2018.
“Everybody has an opportunity in our program to compete,” said Palileo. “If you take one of our setters, Kaliegh Skopal as an example, who played last year, she was able to watch senior Karley York and learn from her.”
York was a senior and First Team All-Conference USA setter on the 2018 team that graduated last year. Junior setter Skopal has seen more playing time now that York is gone and focuses on taking the reins at the setter position.
Following three wins in their tournament matchups against Abilene Christian, Cal-State Fullerton and Prairieview A&M, Skopal recorded team-leading statistics. Against Abilene Christian, she recorded 48 assists, 5 digs and 2 points. Facing off against Prairie View A&M, Skopal recorded 49 assists, 11 digs and 2 points again. For the week of Sept. 16, York was named C-USA Setter of the Week.
“We’ve had conversations about her trying to be the best she can be,” Palileo said. “We try to use what she’s good at to our advantage, and we still work on things she needs improvement on.”
During the weekend of Sept. 13-14, the Mean Green not only won their three-game tournament games against Abilene Christian, Cal State Fullerton and Prairieview A&M but swept all three games 3-0.
Another fellow underclassmen, Sarah Haeussler, supported the offense by scoring 32 points, 26 kills and 7 total blocks over the weekend and was selected to the Wildcat Classic All-Tournament team. Haeussler, as a freshman in 2018, saw significant roles later in the season and now as a sophomore has the characteristics of an upperclassmen.
“We use every moment as a teaching moment not only for the upperclassmen but for some of the freshmen and younger ones too,” Haeussler said. “There has to be a mentality of, ‘What can we learn or take away from this,’ after everything so we can get better.”
Assistant coach Geno Frugoli, who enters his second season with the Mean Green, offers extensive collegiate and club volleyball experience himself and has noticed leadership along with Frugoli.
“They are a growing culture and maturity that’s been building here in the last two years,” said Frugoli. “Palileo has done a great job of doing that with our program and I’ve noticed our players have gotten comfortable with each other when playing on the court together.”
Another underclassman for the Mean Green stepping into leadership roles includes junior outside hitter Valerie Valerian. In the three-game tournament over the weekend of Sept. 13, Valerian was named Wildcat Classic Tournament MVP after a season-high 17 kills against Abilene Christian and 21.5 points that game. For the tournament, Valerian had a team-high 53 kills and a team-high 55.5 points.
“We had so many new faces from last year’s team, and now that most of them are back we can really build on our strengths,” Valerian said. “Each year all of us look in different ways to improve, along with holding each other accountable.”
The Mean Green close their non-conference schedule out in their home court in the Mean Green Challenge Sept. 19-21. The tournament features Kansas State on Thursday, New Mexico on Friday and Ohio on Saturday.
Featured Image: Junior outside hitter Valerie Valerian spikes a ball against Tulsa on Aug. 31, 2019. Image by Isabel Anes