PREVIEW: Volleyball begins 2021 spring season hosting Oakland

Volleyball+returns+to+action+for+the+first+time+in+more+than+a+calendar+year+on+Monday+night.+Photo+Credit%3A+Colonial+Sports+Network

Volleyball returns to action for the first time in more than a calendar year on Monday night. Photo Credit: Colonial Sports Network

By Austin Bechtold, Assistant Sports Editor

MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa.– After a long 431 days since they last took the court at the UPMC Events Center, the Robert Morris volleyball team returns to action Monday at 6 p.m. taking on Oakland. The Colonials and Golden Grizzlies last faced off during the 2017 season in Indianapolis on August 26, with Oakland capturing a 3-1 victory. This two-game series continuing Tuesday at 5 p.m. marks RMU’s first Horizon League action since leaving the Northeast Conference.

Recapping RMU

The Colonials recorded one of, if not their best season in program history during the 2019 campaign. Robert Morris finished the season with a 25-5 overall record and 15-1 mark in the NEC, winning 15 straight before dropping the regular-season finale at LIU in four sets. The team earned their first regular-season crown in 11 years thanks to their dominant season, also recording the third most victories in program history. RMU fell at home in the semi-finals of the NEC Tournament to Central Connecticut in five sets after battling back from a 0-2 deficit.

Robert Morris returns 12 of the 13 members of the last season’s successful campaign, including 2019 NEC Player of the Year Emma Granger. A middle blocker from Dalton, Ohio, the senior Granger is one of the most accomplished players in Robert Morris sports history. She holds the program record for single-match kills with 26, single-match points with 33, aces with 174, and single-season total blocks with a staggering 160. She tied a conference record with a whopping seven NEC Player of the Week awards and has more accolades on the horizon.

Granger will look to break the record for block assists and total blocks, becoming the leader in these categories as well, but winning a conference title is on her and the team’s minds more than anything.

Seniors Maria Alfano, Whitney Brown, Alyson Londot, Erika Wilt, Skylar Clements and Mirna Sarjanovic join Granger as this seven-member senior class that looks to leave its mark on a conference they have only a short time to get used to before having to say goodbye.

Alyssa Hudak and Nikolette Zanolli are also key players to watch out for, with Hudak a key contributor offensively and Zanolli holding down the fort in the back row as the libero is a constant spark plug for the Colonials defense.

Head coach Dale Starr, entering his 11th season at the helm of the program, will look to take his 2019 NEC Coach of the Year award distinction into the Horizon League and try to make an instant impact against the league’s toughest competition.

Robert Morris was projected to finish a surprising ninth in the preseason poll, voted on by the coaches, entering the 2021 spring season. The Colonials are looking to prove the doubters in their own conference wrong and translate similar success from the NEC to Horizon League play.

Scouting Oakland

The Golden Grizzles finished the 2019 season 15-14 and 8-8 in Horizon League play. The team struggled on the road, only recording a 4-8 overall record away from home, but a 5-1 mark at neutral sites. Oakland is an average team in the conference compared to the 10 other members of the conference, at least evident by their .500 conference record.

Oakland fell to no. 3 seed Green Bay in the 2019 conference tournament, getting swept by the Phoenix to end their season. Taylor Dellinger, who led the Golden Grizzles in kills with 11 in their last time taking the court, graduated as the team’s key outside hitter.

The team relies on defense and are lead by senior libero Lindsay Wightman, who dug 17 balls in the matchup against Green Bay. Oakland needs their juniors to step up and play major rules for the team this season to improve on their 2019 season.

Players to Watch

Emma Granger (RMU) – Granger has been the go-to member of the team since she first stepped on campus back in 2017. She owns a ridiculous 1,008 kills through three seasons, averaging 3.05 kills per set.

Granger will once again look to take Robert Morris to the promised land, this time capping off her senior season with a conference trophy. Look for her to be the Colonials’ main offensive and defensive weapon at the net all season long.

Maria Alfano (RMU) – Alfano’s success has been slightly overshadowed due to sharing the middle with Granger, but she has been a model of consistency for RMU since her freshman year as well. The senior from Seneca Valley High School has killed 654 balls at Robert Morris as well as 262 total blocks. Alfano will be relied on once again to star in the front row while Granger is on the bench, and should continue to be a dependable playing for coach Starr.

Lindsay Wightman (OU) – A senior libero from Lake Orion, Michigan, Wightman appeared in 24 matches for Oakland in 2019 and was named to the Horizon League Honorable Mention All-League Team. She recorded 478 digs in 2019, racking up a total of 1282 in her career. Wightman will have the tall task of digging attacks from Granger and RMU’s other potent offensive threats; how she responds will be a crucial part of the Golden Grizzlies’ road test.

AnnaBelle Tomei (OU) – Tomei appeared in all 29 matches for the Golden Grizzlies in 2019 as a freshman, running the offense as the team’s primary setter. She will look to build off of her successful freshman debut that contributed 548 total assists and 14 service aces as well. Look for the sophomore to take a step up this season and guide the Oakland offense to greater success than last season.

Prediction

The Colonials will need to stay on their toes against Oakland as RMU has not experienced in full what Horizon League competition has to offer. I think Oakland starts strong and takes a few sets but the Colonials come back to tie it but lose in five sets (3-2) to complete match one.

Robert Morris will bounce back in match two in four sets (3-1) to earn their first conference victory and officially open the book to a new era in Colonials volleyball.

Monday’s action will begin at 5 p.m. and conclude with game two on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Stay tuned to Colonial Sports Network all season long for continuous coverage of the program and much more.