Emerson’s men’s volleyball head coach Ben Read said the youth on his team leaves room for progress this year and beyond as the Lions gear up for their 2017 regular season.
After losing five graduating seniors from last year’s team, the Lions’ roster currently features nine players, two less than in 2016. The only upperclassmen the Lions boast are co-captains Nick Rusk and Stig Regan. Read said he’s not letting the lack of experience keep him from holding a positive outlook at the onset of the new season.
Read said he was initially concerned about the team’s ball control and passing after losing important players Jared Gross and Jackson Wiley, who were among the team’s leaders in digs, to graduation. Read said he plans on utilizing Nick Rusk as a setter this season, and will fill the void with sophomore Mark Piorkowski. Read said the Lions will likely round out their starting lineup with freshmen playing libero and as outside hitters.
“So it’s brand new people in those positions,” Read said. “I wasn’t sure our passing would be up to par as far as it where it was last year, but I’ve been really surprised so far in the first few days of practice.”
Read said his young team hasn’t set goals for their season yet, but they have spent time discussing what they want their identity to be.
“Some of them are like, ‘Well, we want to be known for hard hits,’” Read said. “And we want to do that. We want to put the ball away, but I think I’d like us to be known for hustle, communication on the court, and being smart hitters, not necessarily pounding all the time.”
Though he admits they will encounter growing pains, Read said he’s looking for high volleyball IQ in his players and wants them to recognize that “smarter is better than harder.”
Read said Stig Regan, a junior visual and media arts major, will play a big role this season and is poised to have a successful year. Regan contributed 67 of the Lions’ 119 total blocks in 2016.
“We’re definitely seeing an upward trend with him,” Read said. “His blocking has improved. His hitting has improved. We’re going to rely on him a lot more and hopefully he can be one of the leaders in our conference in blocks.”
Read also pointed to sophomore marketing communication major Mark Piorkowski as another player poised for a breakout season.
“In some key games he stepped up and led our team offensively,” Read said about the outside and right side hitter. “We do want to be team oriented and have a balanced offense, but if there is anyone on the team it’s him who can go ahead, step up, and lead our team consistently.”
Piorkowski led the Lions with 235 kills in his freshman season, 22 more than Jackson Wiley, who had 215 as a senior. Piorkowski said he is aiming higher this year.
“I personally want to get over 300 kills this year,” Piorkowski said. “I want to try to lead the team as best as I can, at least on the court. With such a young team I want to make sure we’re all working together.”
One of the four freshmen expected to jump right in on such a small roster is John Bucy. Bucy is one of only three players listed as middles on the Lions’ roster. With two middles needed on the court at all times, Bucy said he expects to play opposite Stig Regan often.
Bucy is entering his first season with the Lions after attending Langley High School in McLean, Virginia. Bucy said there’s a higher level of professionalism at the collegiate level that he has enjoyed.
“It’s a lot more organized,” Bucy said. “Now that we’re in season, we have our personal trainers, which is very helpful. I come in 40 minutes early and I heat my back, stretch my shoulders and legs. Afterwards we cool down and stretch. I’ve never taken ice baths before, which are crazy, but good.”
The Lions will have ample opportunity to improve on their 9-16 overall record from 2016, but playing with only a nine-man roster may prove difficult. Read said he has had discussions with Emerson students who have volleyball experience about joining the team, even if it’s just to give the team more bodies in practice.
The men’s volleyball team kicks off their season at home Saturday against Pine Manor at 3 p.m.