By Adam Duke
The Griffs volleyball team came back with an all-new presence in late August. With Coach Lenika Vazquez at the helm of the program, the team has welcomed four freshmen and is now under the leadership of seniors Jacklyn Malusa and Katlyn Tyler.
Last season, the Griffs finished 9-9 in the MAAC and 11-19 overall, missing the MAAC tournament due to a tiebreaker held by Niagara. They look to improve this season with this new presence.
“It’s definitely an entirely new team this year,” said Malusa, who also stated that the freshmen stepped up to take on strong roles. She continued, “We’re starting anew and creating a great tradition with this team. So far it’s been great and we’re going to have a great season.”
New to the Griffs, Gabrielle Darnaby seeks to make an impact by helping the team grow. “I’m just excited to keep doing what I’m doing and to improve,” she said. In addition, Darnaby also mentioned that the transition from high school volleyball to collegiate competition has been tough. She attributed this to both the faster play and the intensified training, but knows that the hard work is worth it. She cited junior Alexandra Brown as a mentor figure, explaining that, “She’s a very positive person, to everybody, and she’s a leader on the team.”
Also a new addition, Coach Vazquez is anxious to succeed with her new team. “I want steady improvement day in and day out,” Vazquez said. “That’s my main focus, my drive, and that’s the message I send to the girls.”
Having assisted at Butler for the past four seasons and prospering there, including back-to-back 20-win seasons, Vazquez is pleased with the work ethic of the Griffs. “As a group, they work very hard and they’re very invested in the program and in each other,” she asserted.
Similarly, the team looks forward to playing under Vazquez. Malusa stated that Vazquez brings a different coaching style than former Canisius volleyball coach Cathy Hummel, who coached Malusa for her first three years. “Their coaching styles are definitely different,” said Malusa. “Lenika’s been very involved. She’s been very positive so far. She’s motivated to get us going and she’s making some big changes, so I think it will be great.”
On August 26, the Griffs began their 2016 campaign in the Bucknell Tournament. The squad won two of three matches in the tournament, defeating Bucknell and Fairleigh Dickinson. The following weekend, however, the Griffs were not so fortunate, getting swept in three straight matches against Towson, Seton Hall, and George Washington in the Seton Hall tournament.
“We need another level of finish,” said Vazquez. “They’re aggressive, but we need more people that want to put the ball away.” The Griffs have a total of 210 kills thus far, compared to their opponents’ total 258, which Vazquez would like to see improvement in. “That’s one thing we’re working on quite a bit in practice these days,” Vazquez continued. She hopes that the Griffs can improve their .128 hitting percentage, reiterating, “That’s the finishing part; that’s the part where we’ve worked hard, we’ve rallied back and forth with this team, so let’s put the ball away.”
On the other hand, Vazquez was very pleased with the team’s defense, noting how they out-blocked Seton Hall. “I don’t remember the numbers, but it was almost two to one if you compared the two,” said Coach Vazquez. “I would like that to carry on up into this next weekend.” Vazquez actually undersold her team’s defensive performance, as they came up with nine blocks to Seton Hall’s four, a 2.25 to 1 ratio.
Giving an outlook on the season, Malusa was very optimistic in saying that she wants a ring to conclude her final year. “It’s our end goal, but it’s going to be a long journey to get there,” she said. Vazquez has also set benchmarks for the Griffs this year. She would like to see a shift in culture from a ‘me’ mentality to an ‘us.’ “That’s happening already, I’m feeling that,” said Vazquez, “but if I had to give something that’s quantitative, I want at least a .500 record.”