After taking over the Pennsylvania College of Technology women’s volleyball program that had only two wins in its previous two full campaigns and was coming out of the COVID-canceled 2020 season, coach Carolyn McKeon had her hands full.
The Wildcats’ 2021 season again produced one win and last year’s squad doubled that number but began to show signs of growth in player bonding and on-court success against some of the United East Conference’s top teams.
As McKeon enters her third year, and with an expanded playoff format thanks to the United East’s merger with the Colonial States Athletic Conference over the summer, she said, “The hope is always to make it to playoffs. While we are still building the program, we do have the talent if we are firing on all cylinders. That is the goal this year.”
When the team opens at 6 p.m. on Friday at King’s College, the lineup will feature key returnees from a year ago in senior setter Cheyenne Stein, of Orwigsburg; senior outside hitter Coryn Oswald, of Langhorne; and junior middle hitters Hailey DeBrody, of Cogan Station; and Lauren Hergert, of Brookville.
Stein and Oswald hit the top 10 in several UE statistical categories last season.
Two newcomers expected to make an impact are sophomore outside attack Marianna Dariychuk, of Leola, and freshman outside hitter/defensive specialist Anna Reed, of Fawn Grove, who has exhibited strong passing skills in early workouts.
“While we continue to have lower numbers than we would like (the roster shows 11 players), we have players who want to be there and want to work hard. With four seniors who are looking to have the best season of their careers, the feeling is one of urgency and hard work to get in shape and create some momentum this year,” McKeon said.
The team’s other seniors are defensive specialist Madison Shaffer, of Trout Run, and all-around Maggie Mangene, of Boalsburg.
A key to the team’s success will be “basics, basics, basics; working our fundamentals is essential to our success. Strong communication and a forward-thinking attitude that success is within our grasp,” McKeon said.
The addition of volunteer coach Abby Hogan, of Loyalsock Township, also should factor into the success as, according to McKeon, “Abby comes to us as an experienced collegiate player and local coach. She has a lot of great experience in fine-tuning a team’s fundamentals and has a strong eye for talent.”
With six matches in the first nine days of their season, the Wildcats will get plenty of opportunities to see how much progress has been or needs to be made.
“It will force the athletes to be prepared and hopefully flush out where we need to push harder before we start conference play,” McKeon said.
“This year, we added a few teams that we hope will give us a morale boost with equivalent structure and level of play. We are missing two teams that we won against last year as they were unable to play,” the coach said of her 21-match schedule.
By the time conference play begins in early October, the team will have had 13 matches.
Looking ahead, McKeon said, “We are in the tough division in the United East Conference. They are all strong teams, and we will be working hard to close the gap on points and set wins.”
This year’s United East is a 17-team conference with two divisions, the Volt, which includes Penn College, St. Mary’s (Md.) College, Penn State Berks, Penn State Harrisburg, Lancaster Bible College, Gallaudet University and Penn State Abington; and the Skye, which includes Bryn Athyn College, Cairn University, Cedar Crest College, Clarks Summit University, Keystone College, Notre Dame (Md.) University, Rosemont College, St. Elizabeth University, University of Valley Forge and Wilson College.
After the regular season, the top six teams will earn a spot in the postseason, which begins with the divisional first round on Nov. 4 (the top two teams get byes). The first-round winners will play in the divisional semifinals on Nov. 7, with division champions crowned on Nov. 9.
On Nov. 11, the two division champions will square off to determine the overall conference champion, with the winner earning the conference’s automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division III Championship tournament.
Last year’s conference champions were SUNY Morrisville, which has since left the UE, and Cedar Crest, which captured the last two consecutive CSAC crowns.
Friday, Sept. 1 — at King’s College, 6 p.m. (King’s leads 7-1)
Saturday, Sept. 2 — vs. Penn State York at Doylestown, 1 p.m. (first-time opponent)
Saturday, Sept. 2 — at Delaware Valley University, 3 p.m. (DV leads 1-0)
Monday, Sept. 4 — at Lycoming College, 5 p.m. (Lycoming leads 13-0)