By Adam Duke
A running theme for the Griffs Women’s Volleyball team this year has been the development of a new team under a new coach. In addition to this, the squad has added four freshmen to complement their veterans. Cassidy Ceriani, Gabrielle Darnaby, Carly Shifflet, and Leah Simmons will seek to use their talents to help the team succeed this season.
“I definitely love the athletic atmosphere,” said Ceriani, one of the team’s setters, “It’s really cool being on a team because I automatically got 13 new friends.” She then added, “It’s cool having people know you’re on the volleyball team and kind of being looked at as an authority.”
Darnaby, an outside hitter, cited the in-match energy as her favorite part about college play. “It’s much more upbeat (than high school). The pace is faster, and I like that.” All four of the freshmen acknowledged the change in tempo of collegiate volleyball from that of high school as well as the change in intensity of training. “We had lift, we had to work out a lot, we had to do a lot of upper body strength, and overall, every aspect of it was harder,” asserted Shifflet, “But it made me into a better player.”
Shifflet, the other freshman outside hitter, enjoys the overall experience of playing for the Griffs, saying she likes travelling with the team. “It feels really professional,” she said, “It’s different from high school, in a better way.” Simmons, a middle blocker, also enjoys spending time with her team off the court. “They’re like sisters and they’re a support system,” she stated. “I really appreciate that.”
The four made their decisions to come to Canisius based on three main factors: the team, the academic program, and the community.
Ceriani, a resident of San Diego, California, appreciated the welcome she received from her visit. Canisius was the first school to recruit her and she looked forward to the new experience. Darnaby, who has a sister that plays for rival Iona, was pleased that Canisius had a good Communications program and loved the team. “I connected with them when I first came, so that definitely made my final decision to come here,” she said.
Shifflet, whose mother also wore number 5 while playing volleyball for The Ohio State University, appreciated that Canisius had a good Physical Education program and liked the school in general. “I thought it was overall a very good fit. I didn’t mind staying local,” said the Williamsville resident. “I’m not going to be home ever, so it wasn’t that bad.”
Simmons, who was a team captain for both volleyball and basketball in high school, liked the atmosphere of the college and the size of the campus. Like Darnaby and Shifflet, Simmons was also pleased to see that Canisius had her major, Digital Media Arts as well as the DMA facilities in Lyons Hall. In addition, she was influenced by the team, as she got along well with the players.
Two weeks ago, Darnaby cited middle blocker Alexandra Brown as her mentor figure. This week, Shifflet agreed. “Definitely Al Brown. I actually knew her, we played at the same travel club,” stated Shifflet. “She’s been someone I can relate to.” Simmons also said Brown acts as a mentor to her, as the two play the same position. She also said that setter Julia Hrycyk has guided her with mental support. Ceriani said that the veterans in general have helped show her the ropes and what the expectations of the coaches and the team are.
Coach Lenika Vazquez has been pleased to see that the freshmen bring a level of calmness to the team. “They’re a talented group that I’m very lucky to have and be able to coach them into my system,” she stated. She acknowledged the role they are filling, and has encouraged them to be a leader now. “You don’t have to wait until your junior or senior year,” said Vazquez, “Right now, you can lead this team to some dubs.”
The Griffs return home this weekend to take on the St. Peter’s Peacocks and the Rider Broncs, as they look to pick up their first MAAC victory. Last season, the Griffs won one of two matches against the Broncs and both contests against the Peacocks. This year, Vazquez looks forward to her first homestand. She encourages students to come out to the Koessler Athletic Center and watch this weekend. “My hope and prayer is that we have some students that can come. It’s on a Saturday and Sunday afternoon,” Vazquez said. She continued, “I’d love for them to come and to see their support in the gym.”
The youngest of the volleyball Griffs are eager to showcase their talent to their peers in their first home series. “I’m excited because it’s going to be my first time to ever play on the Canisius floor and I think it’s going to be fun. It’s cool to play at home and I’m pumped,” said Shifflet.
Vazquez concluded by applauding the family and friends of the team who gave support on the road. “Last weekend, the family support we had was pretty phenomenal,” she said, “We had probably as many fans as they did in the gym, but it will definitely be nice to be home.” She continued, “I would like Griff volleyball to be more of a family atmosphere and get more people here, because it is very exciting and these girls work really hard.”