Benjamin Gottschalk | Staff Writer
Aug. 25, 2022
Friday’s scrimmage against Youngstown State prepared the Duquesne women’s volleyball team for any challenge the upcoming season might bring. The Dukes defeated the Penguins 4-1 during an exhibition inside the UPMC Cooper Fieldhouse’s practice gym.
In the first, Duquesne came out strong and never looked back, winning by a 25-17 mark.
The start of the second set proved more challenging as the Dukes allowed Youngstown State to score five-straight points. After the significant run by the Penguins’ offense gave them a 12-3 edge, Duquesne Head Coach Steve Opperman called a timeout.
“We were talking about [the fact that] when their center was moving across the net, she was always reversing the ball behind, so I think we got better touches, and it put us in a better position defensively as well,” Opperman said. “I think those little things translated a little better.”
After the timeout, Duquesne trimmed the deficit to four at 14-10, but Youngstown State would pull away and win by a 25-17 score of its own.
The third set was the most evenly matched, with each team trading points until the score was level at 17. Duquesne then scored twice, and Youngstown State tried to answer, but Duquesne’s defense stood stout, highlighted by a block from Anna Shoemake, which iced the set and gave Duquesne a 25-23 victory. The Dukes then held a 2-1 set advantage that they would not relinquish.
Opperman said that resiliency helped guide the Dukes’ relentless efforts in the exhibition.
“If I had to say it, this is probably the deepest team that I’ve ever had as far as every position goes,” Opperman said. “Today, we actually had people out, kids who couldn’t play tonight, so we had two freshman middles playing the whole time and never getting a break.
“It was fun for us to see. But it’s really competitive in the gym, and it carried on to our play tonight.”
The fourth set started back and forth until the score was even at nine. Duquesne eventually took control and won the set 25-18.
“Blocking and defense are things that we really worked on [during practice],” Opperman said. “I think we got a ton of balls up that, in the past, kids probably wouldn’t have gotten up, and we made better plays on those balls and those touches.
In the contest’s extra fifth set, Youngstown State opened on a 9-4 tear, but Duquesne rallied and tied the score at 13. The Dukes would secure the final two points, winning the set 15-13.
Shoemake (2021 Atlantic 10 Conference All-Rookie Team) and Morgan Kelly (2021 A-10 All-Conference Second Team) return this year after earning accolades a season ago. Also returning is Hailey Poling, who led the conference with 1,114 assists during the 2021 season.
“I think [having successful returning players] just gives us an opportunity to build off of the things that they did, but also the experience that they have, the leadership that they show in practice every day,” Opperman said. “I think what they did tonight is important to us and the things that we do moving forward.”
Duquesne went 13-16 in 2021, falling to top-seeded Dayton in the semifinal round of the A-10 Championship.
“We are not even looking back on last year,” Opperman said. “Last year was last year, and we’ve moved forward. We talked about it in preseason.
“It stings every time we talk about it, but it’s okay. We learned from the past, and it made us better, and I think that today was an indication of that, as well.”
Opperman’s squad was picked to finish sixth in the conference’s 2022 preseason poll.
“We don’t really care about the preseason rankings. They are what they are,” Opperman said. “From one year to the next, you don’t know what teams are going to have back or what they lose, so you’re kind of just guessing.
“But we are always right there, either in fourth, fifth or sixth, and we like to prove people wrong.”
Duquesne will kick off its regular season this Friday at the Penn State Invitational with a doubleheader against Loyola (Md.) and West Virginia before squaring off with UConn on Saturday.
The Dukes will return home for the Duquesne/Robert Morris Invitational, which begins on Sept. 2 at the fieldhouse.