By Eric Harris, Sports Editor
A familiar thunder returns to the Mark Twain Athletic & Fitness Building this fall. It is the sound of the University of Missouri – St. Louis volleyball team on the rise. Triton volleyball has done nothing but improve over the past three seasons, and this summer they have been putting in the work to continue that progress in the right direction.
After graduating three key seniors, the team still has plenty of experienced guidance stemming from the six seniors Erin Walker, elementary education; Jessica Ploss, criminal justice; Hannah Miller, graphic design; Lindsay Meyer, economics; Shelby Bishop, business administration; and Carly Ochs, accounting. It is very unique for any college program to have so many seniors on the squad in one season. Coach Ryan Young is curious to see how this changes the team’s dynamic. “Having six seniors this fall is great, any of them could step up on any given day to be a great leader. We will have a lot of depth and a lot of battles for positions,” said Young. Based off of last year’s statistics, the team has over one thousand points from kills alone returning. The majority of points come from seniors Ochs and Miller.
These seniors are more ready than ever to get this season underway so they can prove themselves on the court one last time. Ploss said, “I feel that this season is going to be different not only because it is my last season as a collegiate volleyball player, but it is also my turn to help the new girls start their careers off with a great season as well. With five other seniors on the team besides myself, we are hungry for a chance to compete at the highest level that we can to finish out our careers and so I believe that if we get the rest of the team on that same level too then we have a very, very solid chance of making it to the NCAA tournament.”
The Tritons will start off the season getting in plenty of action with two tournaments before they start their regular game season. First they will be heading to Pensacola, Florida for the Hampton Inn-vitational (who doesn’t enjoy a good pun) in early September. That following weekend they head across the river to take part in the Lindenwood tournament before they start regular play on the road at St. Joseph’s College.
This class of seniors’ experience will be crucial to Triton dominance this fall and in teaching the younger players as well. There are five incoming freshmen that will be fighting for spots on this year’s squad: Olivia Gillum, undecided, of Indianapolis Indiana, Alivia Brinker, chemistry, from Washington Missouri, Madison Russell, nursing, of West Branch Iowa, Kayla Shane, psychology, from Evansville Indiana, and Katrina Aliano, educational studies, from Eureka Missouri. Also new to the team is Sam Lewis, junior, psychology, transferring to UMSL from Snow Community College in Utah.
Head Coach Young has been in charge of the program since 2011. He has made major improvements in the program’s record over the past several seasons. In 2012 the Tritons’ winning percentage was .419, going 13-18. Two years later in 2014, under the direction of Young and his assistants Mike Walsh and Natalia Koryzna, the Tritons’ volleyball team improved to 16-12, a .571 winning percentage.
Young said, “There’s been a lot of changes within the program over the years. One of the biggest ones is what type of players we recruit. We went from just good players to students who are better teammates and work great with each other and that really started with this year’s senior class. They were great kids and now they are growing into great adults. And just overall our team has become a lot closer over the years.”
Chemistry is vital in team sports. Adding new players to the equation always produces unpredictable results. Walker said, “Just adding in our new players will change the way our team works and plays together. Everybody gets along really well. I think we’ll be better than last year. We’ve gained a lot of quick, athletic girls, we should be playing a quicker game in general.”
One of the keys to continuing the progress the Tritons have already made is having success in their pod of the conference. The pod is a small group of teams that all play each other twice. Success in the pods means that the Tritons will be seeded higher in the conference tournament and secure a possible national ranking. UMSL is in a pod with town rivals Maryville University, sister school Missouri S&T, and Drury University. These Tritons need as much support as you can give, so make sure you make it to one of their ten home games in this 2015 season.