Preview: Volleyball Ready to Take Next Step

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Laurainne Ojo-Ohikuare says people are often surprised when they learn her real first name; they assume “Loo,” as she has been called since sixth grade, is short for something like Louise instead of being her initials.

Laurainne Ojo-Ohikuare
Ojo-Ohikuare, a second-year captain, had career highs in kills per set and hitting percentage last year.
Some may also be surprised to learn that Ojo-Ohikuare is playing on a new volleyball team this year.

No, Ojo-Ohikuare hasn’t transferred. She’s a senior – the only one, in fact – on a Muhlenberg volleyball team that opens up its 2013 season at the DeSales Invitational this weekend.

What makes Ojo-Ohikuare feel like she’s on a “new” team is the progress the Mules have shown during her career and in the offseasons. She is the lone holdover from the 2010 squad that went 6-21. Since then, Muhlenberg has improved to 10 wins in 2011 and 17 last year, making it one of only three Centennial Conference teams in the last decade to increase its win total by at least four in consecutive seasons.

“We’re extremely excited. Our preseason has gotten incrementally better every year,” she said. “Every girl is striving for the same thing and got better over the summer. So it’s not like playing with the team from last year, but a new, smarter team.”

That could spell trouble for opponents, because the Mules return almost all their talent. Back are the top eight team leaders in kills, two starting setters, six of the seven leaders in digs and the top eight leaders in blocks.

Holly Hynson
Hynson leads all active Mules with 387 career kills.
That group includes sophomores Katherine Boll and Chelsea Kaser, who last year became only the third pair of freshmen to be named to the All-CC second team or higher. Add in three more talented freshmen this year, and Muhlenberg will have excellent depth – and strong competition for court time.

“There’s nothing wrong with a little healthy competition,” said Ojo-Ohikuare. “The reason it’s so healthy is because everyone wants to win. Someone who started last year knows from the first day of preseason that their position is never secure. We want the best six on the court, no matter what.”

The top returning hitters are Boll (3.01 kills per game), who had the second-best hitting percentage (.272) ever by a Mule freshman last year, and junior co-captain Holly Hynson (2.29 kills per game). Junior Lindsey Gambocurta (1.77 kills per game) and sophomores Joanne Josephson (1.76 kills per game) and Sarah Weyhmuller (1.74 kills per game) will contribute to the attack, and sophomore Erin Murphy is one of the most improved players on the team.

Josephson (57), Weyhmuller (51) and Boll (43) had the top three block totals on the team last year and will again be an important part of the defense.

“Our blocking has been incredible,” noted Ojo-Ohikuare, attributing the improvement to new assistant coach Andrew Pile. “Within two days of preseason, we were getting so many more touches than we were even in the spring season.”

Kaser, a sophomore co-captain, is one of the top liberos in the CC and was on her way to breaking the school record for digs by a freshman last year before suffering an injury. Junior Julia Elkin will also help out in the back row.

Junior Nikki Dickson and sophomore Vanessa Pulice alternated at setter last year, both averaging more than five assists per set.

The Mules have not made the CC playoffs since 2009, but after coming close the last two seasons, this could be the year that they break through.

“That’s definitely the number one goal,” said Ojo-Ohikuare. “Every year as we get better, we’re getting closer and becoming more of a threat in our conference.”