Keeley and company dig into volleyball season

Cailin Brophy

Last year was a season of changes and adjustments for the Wildcat volleyball squad, yet despite a disappointing finish in the Big East last season, ‘Nova is hard at work and ready for the fall season.

Second year head coach Allison Keeley has brought in her first recruiting class to the Main Line, which will complement nine returning letterwinners and offset the loss of three key players to graduation.

Leading the team on offense will be the always reliable captain Leah Matthews.

Matthews led the team with 2.92 kills and 3.20 digs per game, recording 10 double-doubles in the season.

Helping Matthews on the offensive strike will be classmate Erin Birunas, who will see a significant increase in playing time this year as a result of a strong offseason. Junior Kate Tucker and freshmen Celine Nguyen and Dana Kabashima will get in the mix in the outside hitting position.

The void at middle blocker left by departed graduates Libby Sybilrud and Jackie Fugiel will be difficult to fill, but Keeley is counting on sophomore Kerri Sullivan. Sullivan surged at the end of last season, recording 172 kills and 36 blocks in 69 games. Freshman Megan Abbott should bring a height advantage to the ‘Cats, while sophomore Katie Lanting can bring more experience to the middle blocking position.

Villanova will be stacked with experience at the setter position, with two of its three captains, Jennifer Edwards and Jenny Badran Grycan, splitting time at the position.

Junior Edwards recorded 446 assists and 205 digs last year, while Badran Grycan led the team in assists (450) in her rookie campaign, to go along with 24 aces.

The Wildcats are picked to finish 12th in the preseason Big East poll, but with the right combination of experience and freshman talent, as well as Keeley’s leadership, the ‘Cats could surprise more than a few teams in their conference.