PREVIEW: Volleyball concludes final road trip in Youngstown

Volleyball+will+attempt+to+finally+notch+their+first+conference+win+with+a+matchup+against+familiar+foe+Youngstown+State.+Photo+Credit%3A+Tyler+Gallo

Volleyball will attempt to finally notch their first conference win with a matchup against familiar foe Youngstown State. Photo Credit: Tyler Gallo

By Austin Bechtold, Contributor

YOUNGSTOWN, OHIO– Still looking for their first win in Horizon League play, the tables may be ready to turn for Robert Morris volleyball. The Colonials (0-10, 0-10 Horizon) will face Youngstown State (2-6, 2-6) for the tenth consecutive season, marking the first time since 1999 the teams will play twice in a season.

The two teams last faced off on September 20, 2019 inside the Beeghly Center to end the Colonials’ 10-0 undefeated start to the season. The series will begin Monday at 6 p.m. and conclude on Tuesday with the match commencing at 5 p.m.

Recapping Robert Morris

The transition to the Horizon League has been a bumpy start for the Colonials, but entering a program with significantly quicker offenses than those in the NEC has presented a more complex challenge for Robert Morris. RMU has only seen the fifth set once and the fourth set twice, being swept on seven separate occasions.

Emma Granger returned for the Colonials in their second matchup against Cleveland State (7-5, 7-5) last week after injuring her ankle in warmups of RMU’s season opener against Oakland, but will still need time to get back to her dominant skillset. The senior middle blocker recorded four kills and a block assist, along with her first ace of the season, adding on to one of her numerous program records.

Robert Morris was swept by the Vikings with the Colonials only earning 20 or more points once in six opportunities, dropping the first match 25-20, 25-15, 25-14, and the second 25-16, 25-15, 25-14 as the points continued to decrease every set. Alyssa Hudak and Abby Ryan compiled 20 and 17 kills, respectively, once again guiding RMU’s offense as Cleveland State focused on containing the middle of the net and neutralizing Maria Alfano.

The Colonials will have a chance to rebound in this series against a struggling Penguins team, looking to exploit their recent losing streak as well.

Scouting Youngstown State

The Penguins started the season on the right foot with back-to-back victories against IUPUI (0-8, 0-8), the conference’s fellow winless team. YSU was swept in their next four matches against Horizon League newcomer Purdue Fort Wayne (8-4, 8-4), and UIC (9-1, 9-1), both sitting atop the conference just below conference leader Wright State (10-1, 10-0).

Youngstown State’s next match against the Raiders scheduled for February 15-16 was postponed, only to return to the court 20 days since being swept by UIC to drop three-straight sets once again, this time against Northern Kentucky (6-3, 5-3).

YSU is 2-4 at home this season and has not been a dynamic team, not winning a set in the past two months. This could be a good series for them to rebound against a Colonials team still searching for answers.

Players to Watch:

Emma Granger (RMU) – Granger did not exhibit her typical skillset in her first game-action of the 2021 spring season, still working her way back to full form and continuing to strengthen her ankle. The 2019 NEC Player of the Year has all eyes on her for the remainder of the season and also next season, planning to return with the extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA on August 21. Granger will be a sight for sore eyes as she brings a consistent threat to the front row of the RMU attack.

Nikolette Zanolli (RMU) – Zanolli has had a rocky season so far to date. She has not performed well as the Colonials starting libero, with quicker offenses and the lack of a consistent block not helping her cause. Her digs-per-set is down to 3.89 compared to 4.65 in 2019. It will be key for Zanolli to have her best series of the season for RMU to come out of Ohio with at least one victory.

Josi Borum (YSU) – Borum has been the Penguins’ best offensive weapon this season with 72 total kills. She also leads the team with a noticeable 43 errors, 21 more than the next closest member of the roster, partly due to her 218 total attacks, blowing the rest of her teammates out of the water. Borum has is a talented right-side hitter and as only a sophomore, will continue to grow into a good player for YSU, already being the team’s best.

Lexie Beeke (YSU) – Beeke has been a nice contributor to the Penguins offense as the team’s primary setter. Only a freshman, she has totaled 10 kills and 79 assists. Beeke will match-up against RMU senior Whitney Brown, looking to guide her offense more effectively and in her own home territory.

Prediction

I’d like to think that eventually, the Colonials will record their first season and first-ever conference victory, and I think that will finally come in this series. Historically this season, RMU has performed better in the first match than the second. Robert Morris will take the first match on Monday 3-1, then fall by the same 3-1 score on Tuesday.