Future looks bright for RMU volleyball


Austin Bechtold

MOON TOWNSHIP– This season, the Robert Morris University volleyball team reached accomplishments that defied all external expectations and produced one of the most successful seasons in program history.

Despite a first-round exit in the NEC semifinals to Central Connecticut State (15-15, 10-6) which concluded a two-match losing streak after losing at LIU (12-17, 11-5) in the regular-season finale, there are many accolades to look back on to appreciate.

The Colonials finished the 2019 season with a 25-5 overall record and 15-1 conference record. Robert Morris was especially dominant at home, going 12-1, only losing a total of four sets in NEC play, and not losing a single regular-season NEC home match all year. The Colonials more than doubled their win totals in both their overall and conference record, improving from a 2018 season that saw the team finish with an 11-18 overall record, and a 5-9 NEC record.

The regular-season NEC champions recorded 25 wins, the third-most from an RMU team. Their 15 conference victories are the most all-time in program history. The Colonials recorded their first regular-season crown since 2008 and earned the opportunity to host the NEC Tournament in the UPMC Events Center’s inaugural season.

The 2019 season also brought multiple in-season accomplishments on the court. Head coach Dale Starr recorded his 100th career NEC victory at home against Sacred Heart (20-11, 13-3) and was the first RMU coach to achieve this mark. He later reached the 300 wins mark in the Colonials 3-2 regular-season victory at home over Central Connecticut State. He has won 154 at RMU, 96 at McNeese and 50 at Mississippi University for Women. Starr continues to add to his resume as the winningest head coach in program history.

Additionally, junior Emma Granger displayed one of the best seasons in RMU volleyball history. The 6’4’’ middle dominated during her time on the court, recording critical points both hitting and serving all season long. She broke the single-season total blocks record with 160, finished second in hitting percentage (.381), block assists (142) and services aces with a remarkable total of 60. Granger also finished the season ninth in kills (389). In the final match of the season, she recorded her 1,000th career kill and is only 41 away from cracking the program’s top 10 rankings. She already is the record holder for aces and has a great chance to smash the records for block assists and total blocks as well.

A big part of the program’s turnaround can be credited to two players, in particular, Lauren Kolenik and Alyssa Hudak. First, with Kolenik, the redshirt sophomore outside hitter delivered an immediate presence playing all around for the Colonials, producing both in the front and back rows. The Eastern Kentucky transfer has delivered when needed, recording 224 kills, 49 total blocks, and 274 digs. Kolenik’s play has been an added bonus to the young team. Furthermore, the emergence of sophomore outside hitter Alyssa Hudak has also brought a critical component to the Colonial offense. Hudak finished with 261 kills, 66 digs, and 36 total blocks in 2019. Both players have two years of eligibility remaining and should continue to be go-to players down the stretch for years to come.

Robert Morris will return their entire team in 2020, including Granger, Hudak, Kolenik, middle Maria Alfano, setter Whitney Brown and libero Nikolette Zanolli. Next season presents a remarkable opportunity for the now experienced team to bounce back and capture their unfinished business of an NEC Tournament championship and return to the NCAA Tournament. The Colonials will also receive contributions from incoming freshmen Annie Monaco, Emma Brown and Abby Ryan in the 2020 season.

The future remains bright for RMU volleyball and they should continue to be one of the top teams in the Northeast Conference.