DePaul volleyball gears up for season without seniors

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After losing six graduating players following the 2013 season, DePaul volleyball is looking for the returning players to step up and provide some leadership as they work in the off-season.

Gone from the team are seniors Natalie Rizzo, Genesis Reyes, Anastasiya Shutava, Allyson Rooks, Vesela Zapryanova and Laura Witt. They also lost Allie Fleener to a transfer.

That leaves DePaul volleyball with just six remaining players. Returning are Jaquayla Baker, Lexi Chanos, Tyler Graham, Callie Huebner, Randi Leath and Colleen Smith.

“Our athletes are here, they’re self-driven, our captains pretty much run conditioning, lifting and they all play indoors or they’ll play on the beach outdoors,” DePaul volleyball head coach Nadia Edwards said of the off-season training the players do in the summer. “It’s a good atmosphere and environment for them to continue what they left off from the spring and then get ready for the fall.”

The volleyball off-season, much like other collegiate sports at DePaul, features a lot of work to improve for the next season. Starting in the winter quarter, the team, minus the graduating seniors, starts to focus on individualized training that helps each player get better for the next season. For two hours a day, the players are doing conditioning, weightlifting or having personalized practices with the coaches.

“In the winter we’re a lot more individualized, working on certain skills, if you’re an attacker you work on arm swing and blocking and footwork and a lot of that and when we get into the spring it’s more team focused,” Edwards said.

After winter, the training becomes more intense as the team starts to model the fall practice schedule, going to twenty hours a week of practice and actually getting to play other teams.

“When the girls come back from spring break and we get into the spring quarter we actually have four weeks of competition and we’re back to the regular practice hours like the fall where it’s twenty hours a week.” Edwards said.

With no returning players who will be seniors next year, Edwards said she has been looking for leadership to step up and help lead the team in the offseason workouts. One of those players has been redshirt sophomore Colleen Smith, who had a breakout season in 2013 after transferring from Indiana the previous year.

Smith was second in the team’s attacking percentage with 31.5 percent.

“I’m trying to become a leader on and off the court,” Smith said. “Whether that’s coming in early, staying late or anything I can do to improve myself.”

That leadership will play a large part in the summer where there are open gyms and opportunities for the team to get together not under the umbrella of an official DePaul practice.

“We’ve got a lot of good leaders stepping up,” Edwards said. “(The summer) is going to be an opportunity for us to see who really emerges.”

“It’s the only way for us to be successful,” Smith said.

A part of next year’s team that hasn’t been able to work with the rest of the team in the offseason has been next year’s freshmen. According to Edwards, however, the incoming freshmen are still putting in as much work, just with their club teams or their high school squads. Edwards has confidence that they will be prepared enough when they arrive at DePaul.

“I think that playing at a high level is going to be enough to prepare them for the fall when they come in,” she said.

While the lack of seniors for next year may appear to hamper leadership abilities amongst the team, Edwards believes that it may actually draw the team closer.

“I think it’s been a great experience for them to develop a little bit more leadership and to strengthen the core of our team that was left when the seniors departed,” Edwards said. “I think they’re a close-knit group.”