Volleyball focusing on improving skills

 Retrievers tabbed to finish top in the conference

By Everett Burris

Assistant Sports Editor

After having a stellar campaign last fall, the women’s volleyball team looks to be nothing short of dominant this season. Not only do they believe they can finish on top of the America East Conference at the end of this season, but so do their opponents, evident by the league coaches voting them as the America East preseason favorite to finish first.

So far this offseason the UMBC Volleyball team has put a premium on focusing in on honing their skills.

“We have an expression, ‘Big rocks and little rocks,’” said tenth year head coach Ian Blanchard. “Our big rocks have been focusing on mastering the fundamentals, skilled setting, hitting. Volleyball is a skill based sport; we want to make sure our skills and fundamentals are on point.”

In regards to the expectations set for this upcoming fall, Blanchard has the utmost confidence that his team will flourish under the expected success.

“We are having competitions in practice everyday to figure out who’s going to play where and also to put some pressure on them. We want to make sure our athletes can compete under pressure at a high level. Our ladies have responded,” Blanchard said.

The Retrievers return 10 players from last season’s team, including senior Hannah Schmidt — the team’s lone returning conference honoree. Last season Schmidt recorded a total of 302 kills, second on the team, and 301 digs, a career high.

“Hannah leads and inspires by example. She has an extremely high work ethic; she doesn’t need any incentives to work hard,” Blanchard said.

The Retrievers have an impressive freshman class as well. Paola Rojas and Claudia Lopez have both competed on the international level and Abbie Mirabella was player of the year in her home state of Delaware.

“Every athlete on this team has experienced some high level of pressure. We have an advantage having these athletes who have been in these positions” said coach Blanchard. “There is going to be an adjustment period but we are very confident they will make the adjustment to the college level game.”

Coach Blanchard understands that this teams success is a symbiotic agreement that all parties involved, players and coaches, stay committed and perform under pressure.

“The Coach relinquishes control over athletes. It is my job to teach but its also there job to make good decisions as well — that’s on and off the court. Based off of what I’ve seen from these athletes, I know they are doing what they need to do. … I mean our players have worked really hard, I am so proud of them and I am extremely excited to start this season.”

The UMBC Retrievers volleyball team opens up their season with a double header this Friday as part of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore’s Hawks Holiday Hullabaloo Tournament. The Retrievers will face South Dakota State in the morning, before facing Fairleigh Dickinson in the afternoon.