Volleyball rolls without Van De Walle

Jason A. Dixon and Jason A. Dixon

For the first time in more than 22 years without head coach Denise Van De Walle looking on from the sidelines, the Bowling Green State University volleyball team rolled to a 4-0 record, capturing the West Virginia Invitational Title last weekend.

It was the Falcons fifth straight win after starting the season 0-3 at the Northwestern Labor Day Invitational.

“I was very excited with the win,” said first-year assistant coach Mark Hardaway, who will be filling in for Van De Walle until she returns to BG Oct. 1. “We did some great things. Overall, it was a great weekend.”

BG defeated High Point and Robert Morris to open the tournament Saturday, and followed it up with wins over West Virginia and Delaware State on Sunday.

The toughest challenge came against the host Mountaineers – a team the Falcons swept last season – who were slightly better than Robert Morris, Hardaway said.

After losing game one, BG came back to win the next three games with the help of a defense that held West Virginia to a season-best .071 hitting percentage and four players, whom all chipped in with double-digit kills.

The way the Falcons played can attributed to the confidence the team gained in losses to 2003 National runner-up Florida, Northwestern, and Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne, according to Hardaway.

The momentum BG has taken from the home-opening win against Cleveland State last Wednesday played a much a bigger role in the teams performance at the West Virginia Invitational, Hardaway said.

“We learned a lot in Northwestern,” he said. “We learned a little bit of what our strengths and weaknesses are … I think the bigger confidence boost was betting Cleveland State, who I think we lost to the last two years.”

The Falcons took another small step forward with the wins, Hardaway said.

BG’s progress has been a representation of the newcomers blending together with the team’s returning players, giving the Falcons a mixture of balance and depth that was missing from the two previous seasons.

Senior middle hitter Melissa Mohr was named tournament MVP and freshmen Stephanie Swiger, who led the team in hitting percentage over the weekend, earned all-tournament team honors.

But a lot of other players did a lot of good things for BG, Hardaway said.

“Emily Manser, it’s the best I’ve seen her play since I’ve been here and she was playing with a lot of confidence,” he said. “Taylor (Twite) had a good weekend … I thought Amber (Mareski) did some great things with the offense and pretty much was a team effort.

“When I look at the way everyone contributed, people on the bench were talking and providing me with information and when they got in they did a good job,” Hardaway said. “Our strength this weekend was definitely serving. We served the ball extremely well and served our way out of a couple of jams. The only downside was a couple of times where we lost focus.”

Van De Walle’s 30 years of coaching experience cannot be replaced, but the goals for BG are to continue getting ready for Mid-American Conference schedule, Hardaway said.

“Everyone has to step up their game a bit,” he said. “They’re going to have to step up their game, I’m going to have to step my game and it’s going to take a group effort to make up for Van De Walle being gone.

“They did a very good job of handling everything over the weekend.” he said. “I think we’ll be a better team when Coach Van De Walle returns.”