PREVIEW: Volleyball travels to UIC for first road trip of 2021

Volleyball+heads+to+UIC+this+week.+Photo+Credit%3A+Tyler+Gallo

Volleyball heads to UIC this week. Photo Credit: Tyler Gallo

By Austin Bechtold, Contributor

CHICAGO– After hosting the Oakland Golden Grizzlies to kick off their first-ever action in Horizon League play, RMU volleyball will hit the road for the first time this season. Robert Morris (0-2, 0-2 Horizon) will travel to Chicago, Illinois to face UIC (2-0, 2-0) in a two-game, Monday-Tuesday series. The last time these two teams faced off was over 11 years ago when the Colonials were once again played on the road, falling to the Flames in five sets on September 27, 2009.

Recapping RMU

RMU got their first taste of live action in 431 days with a frustrating five-set defeat (28-26, 12-25, 22-25, 25-22, 11-15) at the hands of Oakland. The Colonials served up their first conference matchup against Oakland with a set one victory over the Golden Grizzlies (2-0, 2-0) by a narrow 28-26 margin.

The next two sets were a struggle for the team, with set two an outlier to the other four sets as the Colonials lost by 13 points. RMU bounced back to take set four by the same score they lost in set three, setting up a winner-take-all fifth set. The team fell short but showed a consistent fight and determination to battle to the end and last point.

Robert Morris deployed a surprising starting lineup to many in their first contest against the Golden Grizzlies due to the absences of Emma Granger, Maria Alfano, and Nikolette Zanolli.

Alfano was injured before the season opener, but Granger was seen limping off the court during warmups, sitting out of Monday’s match as well as not dressing for Tuesday’s either. With no timetable known for when Granger could return, it will be a challenge for the Colonials without their 2019 NEC Player of the Year to find a consistent offensive threat to put the ball down in key situations.

As for Zanolli, the junior libero surprisingly didn’t see the court as Allena Carmody started in her place, with no reason as to why. Zanolli returned to the lineup for the second match as the starter before being replaced by Carmody once again in the third set.

The rematch of match one was all Golden Grizzlies with Oakland controlling the tempo and regularly putting balls past the Colonial block. RMU was swept (23-25, 16-25, 23-25), but the series as a whole was not a complete negative.

Robert Morris received vital contributions from their freshman class. Abby Ryan, Emma Brown, and Annie Monaco all played well in their first collegiate action. Ryan stood above the rest and was the most productive Colonial on the floor with a combined 23 kills in two matches, leading RMU both days.

Brown killed 10 total balls in the series and Monaco appeared in every set, gaining valuable playing time and showing flashes of a strong skillset.

Scouting UIC

The Flames started their Horizon League schedule off strong with a series sweep of Purdue-Fort Wayne (0-2, 0-2), who is in the mists of their first season in the conference after transferring over from the Summit League. UIC swept the series against the Mastodons with a 3-1 victory in match one followed up by a 3-0 sweep the following day.

UIC had a successful 2019 season with a 20-11 overall record and 9-7 in Horizon League action. The Flames were especially strong at home, earning a 9-3 mark compared to an average 6-5 finish in 11 road contests. UIC lost in the 2019 conference championship in the first round, being swept by No. 4 Northern Kentucky on November 22, 2019.

UIC will host the Colonials in their second series of the season at Credit Union 1 Arena. The Flames were projected to finish in the middle of the conference in the preseason coaches poll, finishing sixth and receiving one first-place vote. UIC will look to continue their early-season success against the second newcomer to the conference in 2020-21.

Players to Watch

Abby Ryan (RMU) – A freshman from Orchard Park, New York, Ryan has been a sparkplug for the Colonials’ offense in the early going. She led the team in kills both matches and plays at an impressively high level given the lack of collegiate experience. Look for Ryan to continue to light up the stat sheet and take another step forward on the team.

Alyson Londot and Mirna Sarjanovic (RMU) – Both senior outside hitters returned to the court to start the spring 2021 season after having their 2019 seasons cut short due to injuries. Londot was out since August 30, 2019, while Sarjanovic exited not long after, missing out on the rest of the season after getting hurt on September 7, 2019. They both played well in their return for RMU, especially Londot, and will look to continue the momentum they created for themselves against UIC.

Mikala Henderson (UIC) – Similar to Ryan, Henderson has been a solid freshman contributor throughout the first two games of the season. She has recorded 22 kills in only 44 total attempts and also leads the team with four service aces. Look for Henderson to play a role in the Flames offensive attack to combat the visiting Colonials.

Paola Santiago (UIC) – Santiago has been a strong outside hitter for the Flames since she arrived on campus back in 2018. The junior from San Juan, Puerto Rico leads the team with 24 kills and had 15 in the UIC’s first match of the spring season. Santiago will be a threat Robert Morris must slow down or neutralize to earn their first win of the season.

Prediction

After two tough losses to Oakland, Robert Morris can now plan for life without Granger and put together a more advanced gameplan with more time to prepare. The Colonials have talented players all through the roster and putting them in a rotation to succeed will be critical for head coach Dale Starr. Despite a ninth-place projected finish, RMU will bounce back and surprise the doubters in their own conference.

Robert Morris will come out strong in the first match and squeak out a victory in the fifth set for a 3-2 match win on Monday, followed by a tough 3-1 loss on Tuesday.

The first Colonials contest of February will begin at 7 p.m EST/6 p.m. CDT on Monday and conclude on Tuesday at 5 p.m. EST/4 p.m. CDT with RMU looking for their first-ever Horizon League victory.