Preview: Volleyball Hungry for More

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

The Muhlenberg volleyball team is staging its own version of “The Hunger Games” this fall. But instead of a bow and arrow, its primary weapons will be greater focus and the motivation it carries from last year’s near-misses.

The Mules, who open up at Moravian’s Greyhound Premiere Invitational on Friday and Saturday, have adopted the motto “Stay Hungry” this season. They say it when they break huddles and have it printed on the backs of their warmup t-shirts.

“It symbolizes focus, that we should stay focused

Morgan Duggan
Duggan tied for the team lead in assists and was second in aces and third in digs last year.
no matter what,” said junior Laurainne Ojo-Ohikuare. “We’ve been rebuilding the last two years, and at this point we’ve shown that we’re here to compete. It’s time for us to continue the momentum that we’ve established.”

Muhlenberg went 10-18 in 2011, a four-win improvement from the 6-21 record of the previous year. In the Centennial Conference, the change was more dramatic: from 2-8 and a tie for last place to 5-5 and one win away from capturing a playoff berth.

How narrowly did the Mules miss the playoffs? They took two playoffs teams, Haverford and Franklin & Marshall, to the brink before falling in close fifth sets, 15-12 and 15-13. They were so close they could taste it ... which is why they need to stay hungry.

“I played in those matches, and I was angry at the end of those matches,” said Ojo-Ohikuare. “There were so many

Laurainne Ojo-Ohikuare
Ojo-Ohikuare’s 29 blocks ranked second on the Mules in 2011.
times where it was something small that let a win get away from us. It’s our job to make sure that doesn’t happen again. We know we can compete, now we have to finish the matches.”

The “Stay Hungry” theme also applies internally, where there is strong competition for playing time among the seven returnees and seven newcomers.

“It’s a healthy competition,” said Ojo-Ohikuare. “Like at my position, there are a lot of outsides, but only two are allowed on the court. If someone outswings me in practice, then the next time I get a perfect set I want to outswing her. We want to compete and outdo each other.

“We also remember that even though we want to get on the floor, we also support each other,” she added. “We know that the best of the best is always out there because we’re competing with each other.”

Regardless of who wins the competition for positions, it will be a young Muhlenberg team that takes the court. The Mules have no seniors and just two juniors: Ojo-Ohikuare and Morgan Duggan, who are serving as co-captains. Ojo-Ohikuare is an undersized but powerful hitter who improved her hitting percentage by 80 points from her freshman to her sophomore year, and Duggan is a versatile player who has filled several roles over the past two seasons.

The sophomore class made its mark all over the court as rookies last year and will look to continue to improve. Hitters Holly Hynson and Lindsey Gambocurta finished first and fourth, respectively, on the team in kills per set, and setter Nikki Dickson tied for the lead in assists. Alyssa Schell topped the squad and ranked eighth in the CC in digs, while Julia Elkin also provided solid play in the back row.

Add to that mix a group of seven freshmen who Ojo-Ohikuare described as “really, really talented. I love playing, but when I’m not on the court I love watching them play. Even though they’ve never played at the college level, they have tons of experience. They love the game and are very knowledgeable about it, but at the same time they are humble about it and respect the game.”

The newcomers and returnees together hope they have all the ingredients that will enable them to satisfy their ultimate hunger: to put a volleyball banner in Memorial Hall.