Volleyball off to best start in over 10 years

With its win Tuesday against Hamilton College, Oswego State volleyball improved to eleven games over .500 and now sits at 18-7 (4-2 in SUNYAC) on the season so far. With this win, the Lakers are now just one win from tying last season’s win total, with eight matches remaining.
In these eight remaining games, the Lakers have an excellent shot to surpass not only last year’s 19-win mark, but the 20-win mark set by the Lakers in 2013 and 1984. With only three more wins, the Lakers will be alone in fourth place for the most wins in Oswego State volleyball history.

Head coach J.J. O’Connell, in his fourth year as head coach for the Lakers, said that this was one of his best offseasons and that has helped his team reach the level of dominance that they have so far.

“I felt like our returning players were a lot more ready for the season, in terms of their preparations physically and mentally as well,” O’Connell said. “They had higher goals and they were ready to go when we started the preaseason. That was big.”

With the elevated level of play the Lakers have seen every year under O’Connell’s direction, it comes as no surprise that they have found themselves in this situation as the season is winding down.

“For us, we’re just trying to get better every year,” O’Connell said. “I think we do that by the hard work we do in the gym and continue to bring in talented players. You can see that with the players, we have gotten better. It’s nice to see that our hard work is paying off.”

This team shows talent not only from their experienced upperclassmen, but their freshmen as well. O’Connell said it is “interesting” to see them have such a mix of proven talent, but also the potential that the underclassmen show from such a young age.

“Sometimes we make some young mistakes,” he said. “But our experience doesn’t let that get to us. Our experienced players say, ‘Hey, we’ll shrug it off and move on.’”
O’Connell and the players like having the balance of ages out on the court and haven’t seen it impact their consistency.

“We definitely have a good freshmen class this year that really picked up our level of play,” junior offensive hitter Kim Cassa said.

One of those impact freshmen is Ariel Murawski, the 6’2” offensive hitter from West Laffayete, Indiana. Murawski, who was Oswego Athletics Athlete of the Week for the ending on Sept. 6, is second on the team in kills and leads the team in hitting percentage.

“Having the freshmen come in so ready to play definitely helps our whole team work together and be motivated,” Cassa continued.

The one thing that seperates this team from the previous years is clear from the coaching staff and the players: chemsitry.

“We wanted to change the culture here, they hadn’t had a lot of success in a long period of time,” O’Connell said. “Always a goal as a coach is to see the program rise. A lot of it is through the hard work of the players.”

A reason this team’s chemistry is so effective is that everyone plays a specific role and works together to get the best result.

O’Connell spoke highly of senior libero Lindsey Morehouse, who has been vital to the team’s success. Despite her minimal impact on the stat sheet (only one kill and four digs on the season) O’Connell said she, “is literally the glue of this team.”

“You can’t [devalue] what she [Morehouse] does for this team,” O’Connell said. “Chemistry is critical in our sport.”

Junior Rachel Ruggaber, who was Oswego Athletics Athlete of the Week this week, has 370 digs so far this year, which is good enough for the team lead and third in the SUNYAC conference. She also believes team chemistry is the focal point of their improvement.

“I think our team chemistry is a lot better this year,” Ruggaber said. “Everybody is motivated to work hard.”

The Lakers’ standing in the record books would be reached by the end of the regular season, but could be even more significant with how the Lakers perform in the playoffs this year.Even if the Lakers win out of the remainder of the schedule, it would still place them at 26-7, one win shy of tying the win total set by the 1992 Lakers.

However, with the Lakers having already played strong in SUNYAC play and most likely ending up with the No.3 seed in the SUNYAC Championship Tournament, they have a possible chance to even get over 27 wins.

While it would not be easy for them to win out the rest of the schedule, the team has absolute confidence that they can.

Although they will face some very tough non-conference opponents down the stretch, Oswego State has a better winning percentage than every team they face for the rest of the season except for one, SUNY Poly. Even if the Lakers don’t win out, they will almost definitely pass the 2013 and 1984 teams in total wins.

“We have some very competitive players and they realize that they can beat anybody if they play as a team,” O’Connell said.

The end of the season will set the tone of the playoffs for the Lakers and determine how much momentum they can bring into the tournament.

“We can honestly take the whole thing if we work hard,” Ruggaber said.

Oswego State will be on the road this weekend to play Western Connecticut State and Keene State before traveling to Geneseo the following weekend for SUNYAC pool play against SUNY Fredonia, SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Potsdam.

The Lakers control their own destiny to the No.3 seed in the SUNYAC, having defeated Oneonta State earlier in the season to break a tie. The team can lock up the No.3 seed with a sweep at Geneseo.