Andrew Holman | Sports Editor
After graduating a trio of seniors, which included their all-time assist leader, Mary Henry, the Duquesne volleyball program needed some young talent to step up in 2016.
Winning all four of their matches in the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational in straight sets, made it apparent that head coach Steve Opperman had a plan. The box scores from the four matches display the balance and the depth of this team.
The usual suspects, including senior outside hitter Maddie Burnham, junior outside hitter Molly Davet and senior libero Sammy Kline, have come back even stronger for Opperman. Additionally, the young talent he brought into the program over the past two seasons is already making an immediate impact.
For starters, freshman setter Dani Suiter was the one challenged with filling the shoes of four-year starter Henry, who graduated last season. Henry ran the show for Duquesne on the offensive side and seemed to always make the right plays near the net.
Suiter has come in and proven right away that she has the talent to put up a similar career to Henry. In the four game stretch of the invitational alone, Suiter dished out 132 assists. She now has 202 assists through her first six collegiate appearances.
Sophomore Sydney McGinn has also done an excellent job filling in at the setter position. McGinn has supplied 97 assists through her 10 sets played. Opperman has to be feeling pretty darn lucky to have two dynamic players at setter.
One of the players on the receiving end of all those assists is sophomore outside hitter Maddie Bazelak. She was named to the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational All-Tournament Team alongside teammates Kline and junior middle hitter Abbie Trzeciak.
Currently, Bazelak is leading a group of powerful outside hitters with 99 kills through eight matches — 22 more than any other member of the Red & Blue. However, Davet, Trzeciak and Burnham all have upward of 50 kills on the season.
All of the power isn’t coming from the outside, as the middle hitters have added their fair share of kills to the mix. The trio of Trzeciak, sophomore Kori Johnson and senior Lacey Levers, who is currently battling an injury, have tallied 115 kills from the center. Opperman can surely use this depth for the long haul of the season. All of these players have proven they can perform from the middle hitter position, so even if one is injured or simply needs a day off, Opperman has a bench to back them up.
Along with the surplus in hitters, Duquesne has a reliable defense found in the back with Kline and sophomore defensive specialist Camryn Vecera.
In the Dukes’ first match of the weekend versus Coppin State, Kline recorded nine digs and with that she surpassed the 1,000th dig of her career. The senior has already racked up an even 100 digs in the early portion of the 2016 campaign and was named MVP of the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational. Vecera has muscled out 57 digs to add to the mix. Due to their expertise in the defensive aspect of the game, Opperman decided to redshirt another talented freshman, Claire Boe, in order to save this year of eligibility for her.
The Dukes co-hosted the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational Sept. 2-3 at the Palumbo Center and faced four non-conference opponents over the course of the two-day event.
Their third win of the invitational over Bucknell gave Opperman the 400th win of his career on the Bluff. Watching his team complete a perfect weekend with four 3-0 victories had to be a sweet way to celebrate that milestone.
It will be even sweeter for Opperman if the depth that was on display this weekend continues throughout the season. Playing four games in two days challenges a team’s focus and durability, and the Red & Blue showed that wasn’t a problem as they avoided dropping a single set.
For the Dukes to keep the early success rolling through the remainder of conference season they will have to rely on a well-rounded performance — similar to the one on display over the weekend. When Levers is back, this team will exude exceptional depth and balance and could become the force they were just a few short seasons ago.