Women’s Volleyball: Sights set on deep playoff run

Andrew Martinez

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The women’s volleyball team looks to build on their success in 2012 and make a push for the postseason this year behind an experienced core of returning starters and talented underclassmen.

Despite improving their win total the past few seasons and having their best win total since 1996 with 21 wins last season, the Matadors missed the NCAA Tournament as they finished third in the competitive Big West Conference behind Long Beach State and powerhouse Hawaii.

Although the Matadors face a tough schedule this season, head coach Jeff Stork believes it’s going to be a successful year for the Matadors.

“We have a senior and junior heavy squad, and we have been making a lot of progress over the last several years, and this is in some ways a culmination of this group of athletes,” Stork said.  “In anticipation for a stronger team, we’ve actually scheduled very heavy, so it’s going to be a challenging year for this team, but I think this team is ready for this challenge.”

The team picked up five newcomers this season, but keeps its core of starters. Among them is junior middle blocker Casey Hinger who was named American Volleyball Coaches Association All-American and first-team All-Big West and also led the Big West Conference with 1.34 blocks per set.  Also returning is senior setter Sydney Gedryn who was named to first-team All-Big West for the second year in a row while setting career highs in assists (1,160), kills (161) and blocks (140).

Sophomore middle blocker Cieana Stinson, who made an immediate impact as a freshman last season with 210 kills and 89 blocks, believes this team is poised to make a run at the NCAA tournament this season.

“At our fall camp we’ve been looking pretty good, and everyone’s been working really hard,” Stinson said.  “Our outcomes and our plays have worked in our favor last season so I think if we execute it this season everything will be solid for this year.”

Stinson also said the senior leadership on the team has been helpful, as they have made the underclassmen feel comfortable and have helped coach her and teach her how to handle experiences on the court.

Mahina Haina, a returning senior who led the team with 320 kills and was an honorable mention on the All Big West team last season, thinks chemistry is key this season.

“We’ve played with each other for a long time now, so the chemistry is really good and it’s kind of easier when you have the younger players coming in and they just kind of have to get with our groove,” Haina said. “I think because we have a lot of experience it helps on the court, we all know our role and what to do and it’ll help the younger players see what they’re expected to do in the future.”

The Matadors hope to improve on their 12-6 Big West Conference record last season, as they look to sweep Long Beach State again and avenge tough sweeps by UC Irvine and Hawaii. Notable games out of conference include matches against Washington and UCLA, both ranked teams.

Although the Matadors were picked to finish third in the conference in a preseason poll, Stork believes his team will outperform their projection.

“They’re very mature. They’re focused, so we’re excited about this season,” Stork said. “We’ve been talking to this team for a couple years about NCAA playoffs, and we’ve been talking with this team about winning a conference title. It’s a difficult task but that’s the focus we set before them and they certainly are aware of what’s ahead of them.”

The Matadors open at home on Sept. 17 against Seattle.