09 Dec 2021 | 15:01 | Volleyball
In a new season with a new energy, Villanova Volleyball looks to contend for a bid to the Big East Tournament come November.
“The energy from this group is fantastic, the feel of this group is great,” Villanova Head Coach Josh Steinbach said, who will be entering his 15th year at the helm. “Part of that is the excitement to be back and the young kids have a positive energy about them that is infectious.”
The Wildcats were picked fifth this year in the preseason’s coaches’ poll, the third straight year that the Wildcats were picked to finish in the top five.
“We have some really good kids this season that I like being around,” Steinbach said. “This is going to be one of the more fun groups that I’ve had to work with in a long time.”
The Wildcats return seven starters, including last season’s kills, digs and assists leaders. Five of the returners placed in the top ten in the conference in kills, assists, service aces, digs and points.
Averi Salvador, reigning BIG EAST Libero of the Year, returns to the court for the Wildcats. The graduate student was named to the preseason All-BIG EAST Team after leading the team with 131 digs.
“Averi’s a great human, a great kid and we’re lucky to have her,” Steinbach said. “I think her stable presence is really positive for a young team and she’s a great leader.
Sophomore Riley Homer looks to build off a stellar freshman season that included finishing in the top ten in the BIG EAST in kills (112) and points (133). Junior setter Belle Morgan returns to the court after finishing fifth in the conference in assists (328) including a career-high 50 against Seton Hall last season.
Senior hitter Sanaa Barnes looks to make an impact on Villanova’s attack this season. In her first three years, the senior has registered 425 kills.
“We expect big things from her,” Steinbach said of Barnes. “She’s our best athlete and is probably the best athlete in most gyms she’s in and we’re excited to have her on our team.”
Senior Clare Delaplane looks to build off a junior season where she finished second on the team in kills (94) and digs (125).
“Clare works really hard, plays hard and that’s what everybody sees,” Steinbach said. “When you have your oldest and most experienced kids doing the things they need to be doing in the weight room, classroom and the gym, it’s a positive influence for the younger kids in the program. Clare’s been great her whole career and she’s continuing to be great as a leader and I’m looking forward to another season with her.”
The sophomore trio of Kiera Booth, Maddie Barber and Taryn Whittingham look to make an impact for the Wildcats.
“Kiera and Maddie have been attacking the ball well and are poised to be very good players in our conference for the next few years,” Steinbach said. “Taryn is making huge strides, her confidence has been great and is playing well.”
Villanova brings in five freshmen for the 2021 season including Elizabeth Feczko, Ellery Gray, Rose Crist, Ozzie Ozonoh and Dani Ortiz.
“I think the freshmen as a group are young and talented, they’ve got a little ways to go with some technique stuff that I would like to see cleaned up,” Steinbach said. “Ellery Gray is a natural athlete that we like at the setter position, Ozzie has a high level feel for blocking and is a good mover, Rose Crist has an arm that can score at the BIG EAST level, Dani and E. are as ready to play right away and will be part of a talented defensive group.”
The 2021 Wildcats will begin their season against No. 21 Stanford Volleyball team at the Finneran Paviion on August 27. This will be the first time Villanova’s Volleyball team has played at the Finneran Pavilion since 2013.
“We’re playing a team that has won two out of three national championships and is a perennial national finalist contender so you have to tamper some expectations,” Steinbach said. “It’s a fun match because you get to test yourself against some of the best players in the country and we hope to compete.”
After a season with no crowd interaction due to Covid-19 restrictions, the Wildcats look forward to playing in front of fans.
“We’re looking forward to playing without masks, having fans in the gym, being able to travel like a normal group again,” Steinbach said. “Some of the simple things that we took for granted as a team that went away during the Covid season are back and we’re looking forward to a fun season.”
The Wildcats will host Rider University and Delaware at home on Saturday, August 27 before traveling west to Phoenix the following weekend for the Grand Canyon Invite where they will take on Rider, Western Carolina University and tournament host Grand Canyon University.
Villanova continues their road trip when they travel to Boston for the Northeastern Tournament. The Wildcats will take on Northeastern, Bryant University and Harvard University. Northeastern reached the CAA Championship in the 2020-21 season.
The Wildcats will round out their final road trip that’s just a short drive from campus for the Temple Tournament. Villanova will take on Princeton, Temple and Penn. Princeton reached the NCAA Tournament in 2019 after a 17-8 season.
BIG EAST play will begin on September 24 against Marquette at home and will conclude at Marquette on November 20.
The BIG EAST Tournament is scheduled for Nov. 26-27 in Milwaukee, Wisc.
“Every match is meaningful and that means that we’re in contention for something until the end of the year which would be the Big East Tournament for us,” Steinbach said.
Be sure to follow @NovaVolleyball on Twitter and Instagram for the most information, updates and behind-the-scenes looks throughout the 2021 season.
All Villanova Volleyball home matches, including the season-opener against Stanford, will be streamed through FloSports.