Volume 97 Issue 7 Sports

Men’s volleyball aims to improve athletically, off court

by Alyssa Fasolo

The men’s volleyball team is hoping to turn its season around and have a successful rest of the year on and off the court.  The team is currently 7-7 with a 3-3 conference play record.

The Eagles began their season with three losses in the Wittenberg Invitational to Carthage, Mt. St. Joseph and Wittenberg with scores of 3-0, 3-2 and 3-2, respectively.  They picked up their first win and conference victory of the season against Eastern Mennonite at home 3-1.

The team went on to split in a tri-match, losing the first match to Marymount 3-1 and defeating Wells 3-1 in the second match.  The Eagles next defeated conference opponent Thiel 3-0 on the road.  They lost the following match by a score of 3-0 to Stevenson.

Juniata hosted the Eagle Invitational Feb. 19 and 20.  The Eagles began the tournament with a 3-1 win over Lasell before defeating No. 4 Nazareth 3-0 in their second match of the weekend.  The team lost its third match to SUNY New Paltz 3-0 but picked up a final win with a 3-1 victory over Hunter.

The week following the tournament, the team split a pair of conference matches, losing 3-0 to Rutgers-Newark and then defeating Cairn 3-0.

Head Coach Pat Shawaryn and the players say that they are working toward their goal of a national title.

“Any time anybody plays volleyball here at Juniata, it’s national title or bust,” Shawaryn said.  “We still believe national title or bust is the mentality we want for these guys.”

The players express that although the season did not get off the start they hoped for, the improvements they are frequently making  are leading them in the direction of their goals.

“We’re struggling.  We’re a very young team, so we kind of expected that, but we’re learning each and every day, each and every weekend,” senior middle blocker Chad Albert said.  “It’s a process.  You’ve got to believe in the process.”

The team has been focusing on the “little things” in order to stay on track to accomplishing its goals.

“I think a lot of what it comes down to is, we’ve kind of learned from some of our mistakes along the way so far this season,” senior Ryan Shelton, who is a setter for the team, said.  “The past few days especially, I’ve noticed a change in mindset in the gym, doing the little things right.”  

The players feel that work ethic and comradery are among two of the team’s greatest strengths.

“I think that no matter what our record is now, this is just as much of a hard-working team as it was last year,” sophomore outside hitter Matt Vasinko said.  “I would say that’s definitely what makes us special.”

“Our comradery is great,” Albert said.  “We’re like a family.  17 is 1–that’s what we always say.”

Shawaryn feels that in addition to these aspects, the team’s ability to adapt to different situations and lineups are another asset.

“I’d say our greatest strength is our adaptability,” Shawaryn said.  “We have multiple guys that can do multiple things very well, especially our starting seven.  I would say that’s definitely our best strength because we’ve been able to move guys around a lot lately, and we’ve actually been better than keeping them in their normal positions.”

Among the team’s most challenging obstacles this season are its youth and inexperience.

“We have a lot of young guys in our gym who are kind of new to the program stepping in, and they’re trying to find their spot,” Shelton said.

“There’s a lot of inexperience right now,” Shawaryn said.  “When we usually have five or six underclassmen to ten to twelve upperclassmen, this time we’re four or five upperclassmen with ten to twelve underclassmen, so teaching the young guys what’s accepted, what the expectations are (has been a challenge).”

On top of battling its lack of experience, the team has been working to be mentally tough on the court.

“We seem to take plays off here and there; we’re not always giving our full mental focus in every play,” Albert said.  “So that’s our biggest challenge—staying focused.”

Shawaryn has stressed to his players the importance of heart.

“Right now, we’re missing some heart,” Shawaryn said.  “The skills part, we’re good.  Having it come together is kind of what we’re missing.  When we’re in huddles, in practice we always say it’s not six individuals on the court, it’s six working as one.  Right now we’re three or four working together, and two are kind of doing their own thing.  So when they can maybe turn that and come into one big team – one heartbeat – we’ll be okay.”

In addition to aiming for post-season success, the team has also been looking to succeed off the court this season.

“This year, we had a goal to change the image that the men’s volleyball team has, and I can personally say, as someone from the inside, that we are well on our way to accomplishing that and if not already have,” Vasinko said.  “I think we relate better to the student body, and I think we get more respect from the faculty.”

“I think one of our better accomplishments is that a lot of off the court stuff for us has been better this year,” Shelton said.  “Grade wise, in the classroom, we met our GPA mark, just all the little things like that.  Maintaining a goal of trying to improve our reputation on campus—I think we’ve made progress with that.”

Shawaryn agrees that he is happy with how his players are doing outside of volleyball.

“Off the court we’re doing wonderful, which is a big step for us,” Shawaryn said.  “On the court we’re seeing progress [as well].”

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