The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

The Student Newspaper of DePaul University

The DePaulia

DePaul volleyball isn’t worried about the results, they’re looking for growth

Samantha Davis
Senior libero Julia Nagy practices her serve before a match against the University of Connecticut Friday, October 27.

The final score from their final spring season match says otherwise, but DePaul volleyball believes they can use this match as momentum for the future. 

Inside Evergreen Park Community High School’s gymnasium, April 20, two Division I programs concluded their respective spring seasons. DePaul volleyball ‘hosted’ the reigning MAC champion, Western Michigan Broncos. The two battled at the net and exchanged scoring rallies throughout, playing all five sets, where the Broncos prevailed, winning 4-1.

Western Michigan was a deserving final opponent for DePaul as they are coming off one of their best seasons in program history. A 30-2 record coupled with a first-round upset win in the NCAA tournament over nationally ranked Auburn made this match have a little extra juice.

“There’s a reason why I left this team last, and as you can see they just play with a tremendous motor,” DePaul head coach Marie Zidek said. “They play a lot of selfless volleyball, they play together and that’s something that we’ve been trying to work on in our side of things.”

On March 1, The Blue Demons announced their spring competition schedule, which concluded with the Western Michigan match. DePaul began their season with two in-state opponents—Illinois and Loyola Chicago—and then participated in a round-robin competition with Michigan, Michigan St. and Toledo in Fort Wayne, Indiana.

This season, Zidek said 20 hours of work went into it, and one key area of improvement coaches and players focused on was their “out-of-system balls” from serve-receive. An out-of-system ball is when a pass from the back row is too far for the setter to run a middle or slide attack.

“Our setter, Ashley (Cudiamat), has been doing a really good job of keeping all the hitters ready and open,” outside hitter Audrey Klemp said. “That’s a change that we’ve mastered pretty well.”

Klemp and fellow outside hitter Jill Pressly shouldered much of DePaul’s offensive load this year, and that trend continued against Western Michigan. On the year, Klemp and Pressly accounted for 877 combined kills. Klemp’s 3.03 kills per set ranked 12th in the conference. Pressly averaged 4.45 per set, leading the Big East in that category, and was good for 13th in the country. That led to her earning an All-Big East Team (unanimous) nod and All-Big East tournament team nod. 

Pressly says the team calling her number in the back row gives the offense more variety and keeps the defense guessing where the ball is coming.

“We’re using it more as an extra attack,” Pressly said. “In the past it was more just used as an outlet. But now we just have more options, and it’s used more as a way to score versus just getting the ball over.”

Getting the ball over proved to be tricky during rallies due to lower ceilings at the high school. 

“We actually trained for that,” Zidek said. “In our gym, we brought the batting cages down to hover over the court. And we’ve been training for the past two, three weeks knowing this was coming. We didn’t want it to be an excuse today.”

‘No excuses’ has become the mantra for DePaul volleyball lately, with McGrath-Phillips undergoing renovations. Whether the team has multiple courts to practice on or plays in a packed gym, they’ll be prepared.

Under Zidek’s lead, the volleyball program has seen steady improvement year-by-year, both on the court and in the classroom. In 2021, Zidek and her staff led DePaul to its first-ever Big East Tournament berth in 2021, when the team went a program-best 19-12 (12-6 in conference play). The Blue Demon coaching staff was named Big East Coaching Staff of the Year for their successes. This year, Zidek again accomplished something DePaul volleyball hadn’t done before: earning a Big East tournament game win and a National Invitational Volleyball Championship (NIVC) postseason win.

Academically, her players have earned the Big East Team Academic Excellence Award in 2019 and 2023. The volleyball program has been awarded the USMC/AVCA Academic Award for the last 16 consecutive seasons, including all six under Zidek. The team also earned honor roll distinction for posting a GPA within the top 20 percent of team GPAs within Division I last season.

So, what will next fall look like for DePaul volleyball? Head coach Zidek wants her players to keep the habits they built during this offseason, in the weight room and on the court. It’s about carrying over the hunger from their postseason run last fall.

“Winning a championship,” Zidek said. “That’s the goal. If we really want to be in a championship chase, we have to learn how to manage and get more out of each other and how to play higher level team volleyball and again, it starts with the staff and that starts with me.”

Zidek says that for DePaul volleyball, it really may be that simple. They just need to play at a higher level.

“We’re going to use this and everything we learned and worked for and apply it to our fall season,” Klump said.

For Pressly, the next season has a whole new meaning.

“It’s my last season, so I’m ready to go out with a bang, Pressly said. “A lot of us want to win a Big East championship and that’s the mindset going into the fall.”

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