By Zach Gilleland
With many faces gone from Maggs Gymnasium, a new-look Sea Gulls’ team starts their journey.
The Salisbury University volleyball team returns to the court Friday after a near 10-month layoff. The team hosts its annual tournament, the Sea Gull Classic, a tournament in which the maroon and gold swept last season winning all four contests.
Those that return hope to fill the void created by last season’s senior class—outside hitters Katie Stouffer and Shannon Russell, middle hitter Jordan Lawson and defensive specialists Krista Pecenka and Gina Fischetti.
As the previous seniors received their diplomas in May, three new seniors received the honor of team captains with setter Alexis Howatt and middle hitters Sydney Davis and Samantha Chubb named. Even with the new title, Howatt said their role doesn’t change.
“It’s about stepping up and filling the shoes of our seniors that graduated last year,” Howatt said. “Continuing the team dynamic last year of a family and keeping everyone close and together as a team.”
In his fifth season at Salisbury, head coach Justin Turco leads a team that has recorded 20 or more victories and has advanced to the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Semifinals in each of its last four seasons. Turco credits former longtime volleyball head coach and current softball head coach Margie Knight for helping his transition as head coach.
“It’s been fun, it’s been a challenge following a longtime coach,” Turco said. “[Knight] has been a good mentor while I’m here, someone to talk to and has good ideas.”
Last season left much to be desired. Even though the Sea Gulls notched 20 victories for the 14th consecutive year, a loss to Christopher Newport in the CAC Semifinals ended the team’s NCAA Tournament aspirations.
“That game has not been forgotten,” sophomore defensive specialist Hailey Dougherty said. “It was the hardest loss of the season.”
Following the Sea Gull Classic, the next home game is a date with the Captains, the rematch falling on Oct. 6.
Salisbury’s finished fifth in the conference last season in large part due to its primary setters Alexis Howatt and sophomore Rachel Dubbs. The duo combined for 856 of the team’s 1,115 assists.
Dubbs, in her first season donning the maroon and gold, contributed 637 assists and 132 digs.
Last season Katie Stouffer cemented herself as one of the most outstanding players in program history. The 2016 CAC Player of the Year and four-time All-CAC First Team selection finished her career with 1,747 kills, eclipsing the previous mark of 1,734 set by 2009 graduate Stacey Krebs.
Eyes will be on junior Nicole Venturelli to help fill the void at outside hitter created by Stouffer’s departure. Venturelli, a 2016 second-team All-CAC selection, finished second on the team with 265 kills.
Flanking Venturelli on the opposite side are juniors Gabby Fox and Carley Cleland. Freshmen Madeline Eckerd and Lacey Swartout are the new faces in the group. The teammates from Rising Sun High School in Elkton, Md. are among the players coach Turco will rotate throughout the season.
With only one departure, Salisbury finds valued experience in front of the net.
Davis returns as a mainstay for the Gulls. The senior led the team with 77 total blocks in 2016, good for 11th in the conference.
With the added pressure of being a leader on the team, Davis said her teammates make it easier for her.
“That pressure comes on you every year but it’s how you deal with it and bring it in,” Davis said. “We all lean on each other and I couldn’t ask for a better team to be around.”
Among those to receive a bulk of playing time, Chubb and junior Gianna Savarese return from last season, and junior Kaitlyn Shea rounds out the rotation.
The least experienced group, Salisbury carries only two upperclassmen on the roster—senior Amanda Rodriguez and junior Madison Lim.
Rising sophomore Hailey Dougherty returns after a stellar freshman season in which Nazareth, Pa. native finished third on the team with 185 digs. Dougherty says the support from Coach Turco and her teammates has helped her in her game.
“I learned a lot last year and the team was so welcoming,” Dougherty said. “It was an easy transition and I’m super excited to play more this season.”
Freshmen Morgan Catalanotto and Allison Laucella finish out the rotation.
Salisbury starts their non-conference slate with the Sea Gull Classic on Friday. The Sea Gulls will host Medaille College at 4 p.m. and Swarthmore College at 8 p.m. Day two continues on Saturday as the team will host Geneva College at 11 a.m. and former CAC-foe Stevenson University at 1 p.m.