EVERGREEN EXTRAS - Volleyball Team All Smiles After Best Start Since 2002

Oct. 3, 2007

Editor's Note: This is the first in a year-long series called "Evergreen Extras" that Terry Foy will write for Foy will cover the teams and student-athletes of Loyola College on a weekly basis.

By Terry Foy Writer

For the 2007 Loyola volleyball team, it's all smiles on the court. Perhaps that was all the Greyhounds needed in order to be all smiles off the court.

Off to a 13-8 start after defeating Navy in three games on October 2, Loyola is attaining a level of success it has not seen in at five years.

The Greyhounds look to continue their fast start as they get into the heart of their conference schedule. Loyola continues its current homestand when it hosts Manhattan on Saturday and Fairfield on Sunday. Both games are in Reitz Arena at 2 p.m.

Although the season is still young - as of the win against the Midshipmen, Loyola still has 12 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference matches to play - the Greyhounds have already put up some significant numbers:

- The team's 13 wins through 21 matches are the most overall since the 2002 season.
- The 2007 team is only the second in school history to win 12 of their first 20 matches.
- Loyola began the 2007 season with a 2-0 record in the MAAC for the first time since 2002.
- The Greyhounds are averaging almost two more kills per game this season than last year.

"I think everybody was kind of disappointed last year, especially with the MAAC Tournament," Hernandez said of her team's improvement this season. "Over the summer, we talked about how we kind of underachieved. Everyone came into the preseason, and we were clear on what our goals were. Now, we're going after them."

Fueled by a roster that lacks a senior, but is not short on leadership, the Greyhounds find themselves playing an energetic style that has them laughing, smiling, and dancing their way past opponents.

"It's great when everyone is in the game and playing their best and giving it all they've got," said freshman libero Brittany Born. "This team is really close, we get along great and that shows on the court."

The Greyhounds also thrive on talent and tenacity, a combination that rarely finds them out of a match. The qualities were exemplified with an impressive come from behind victory in the third game of the Navy match.

After the Midshipmen opened up an early lead in the third game, Loyola answered with a run to put the Greyhounds ahead and force a Navy timeout. Instead of relying on their early two-game lead and try to rebound in a fourth, the Greyhounds continued to battle and pulled out the sweep.

"I think it shows we have a lot of mental strength and a lot of perseverance. We don't give up and settle," said freshman outside hitter Nina Camaioni who earned her second MAAC Rookie of the Week award last week. "It's a mental thing, and I think the coaches have really helped us to stay focused and say, `We're doing this.'"

As for the talent, Loyola is getting contributions from all over the floor with five players averaging at least 2.0 kills per game.

Much of the credit for the improved attack numbers goes to sophomore setter Chrissey Cruz. The Harlingen, Texas, native has improved her assists per game average from 8.98 a year ago to 10.86 after 21 matches this season.

"Chrissey is starting to make better decisions on her own," Hernandez said. "Last year, I was in her ear a lot, telling her the decisions to make. This year, though, she is seeing things on her own. I put a lot of pressure on her, and she is handling that very well."

Cruz does not mind the extra expectations placed on her position by Hernandez, a setter herself in college.

"When it comes to college, you're expected to know what sets to make and when to make them; it's a lot different than high school," Cruz said. "I am taking the skills that coach has given me and using them, but you have to be tactful. Last year, she was teaching me all of that, and I am not going to lie, it was very tough.

"I grew up very fast and am getting into a leadership role as a setter. This year, I know what hitters to set and what types of sets they like. I really like the way that Coach pressures me to improve."

Height and strength have also been an improvement for the Greyhounds.

"We're much better than when I first got here," junior outside hitter Christina Greenup said. "We're a lot bigger and stronger than two and three years ago."

Greenup and Camaioni have combined to create a formidable rotation on the left side, while Hernandez says sophomore Anastasia Collins has been not only a pleasant surprise, but exceedingly important in holding down the right side.

"`Stasia was my biggest surprise this year," Hernandez said. "She was a walk-on and only played back row. Now she's in the entire game and she's one of our biggest players."

Sophomore Karlee Woodward and junior Rachel Schillinger are both excellent blockers and attackers. Through their efforts, and the recent improvement of the team's outside hitters in the blocking game, Loyola set season-highs in total blocks against Iona, then again versus Navy.

Born has beeen a staple in the back row as a libero and one of the team's primary passers. Sophomore Kimi Gabriel also contributes along the back row.

The Greyhounds' success is no surprise, and with a young team with lots of ability, Greenup thinks the season is leading towards a good run at the MAAC Tournament.

"Our goal is to keep going forward," she said. "We're not going to take a step back next year and say `maybe.'"