Fall, Volleyball, Sports

2020 Fall Sports Preview: Volleyball

Four years ago, Boston College volleyball finished the season with a 7-24 record and won a meager three games in the ACC. After that season, head coach Chris Campbell parted ways with the program

A lot has changed since 2017. Just months after Campbell’s departure, BC welcomed head coach Jason Kennedy, who earlier this year was recognized as an “Under 40 Coaching Hotshot” by VolleyballMag.com. This recognition came as the result of BC volleyball’s rapid three-year transition from being a conference bottom-feeder to holding 11-7 an ACC record in 2019, landing the Eagles in a program-best seventh place out of the 15-team ACC. BC’s historic 2019 season ended with the team’s first-ever postseason match and plenty of forward momentum.

Things are trending upward for the Eagles, but that does not mean the road ahead will be easy. 

The ACC Preseason Coaches Poll ranked BC at No. 8, one team down from its 2019 finish. This year’s team looks almost entirely different than last year’s, as the Eagles added 10 freshmen to their roster. The new freshman will look to counteract the loss of six seniors from the 2019 team. 

With so many fresh faces on the court, Kennedy looks forward to seeing the team’s two seniors step up into leadership roles.  

“We’ve got two seniors coming back that played quite a bit last year: Clare Naughton and Amaka Chukwujekwu,” Kennedy said. “Both will contribute quite a bit offensively, quite a bit defensively, so we’re relying on them as two of our seniors to carry a lot of the workload.”

Chukwujekwu and Naughton both made names for themselves last season as juniors. Naughton will take the court for her final season as an outside hitter with 290 kills last year—good for third on the team. Chukwujekwu will start at middle blocker/hitter, bringing a balance between offense and defense. She led the Eagles in blocks last season with 21 solo and 105 assisted, and she also put up 262 kills. Chukwujekwu recently made the All-ACC Preseason Team, so she will be a player to watch.

Beyond his seniors, Kennedy looks forward to seeing Torey Baum provide consistency at the libero position and  Gabby McCaa return to the back this year. Izzy Clavenna, who saw minimal court time last season, will take over on the right side, according to Kennedy. 

Kennedy also noted improvement in Silvia Ianeselli’s passing and ball control, so he expects her to contribute as an outside hitter. He’s impressed by his new players, mentioning setters Grace Penn, Sophia Lambros, and Payton Hielscher as well as liberos Bridget Green and Anna Murphy as stanouts. Kennedy also mentioned freshman Alayna Crabtree’s adjustment to college-level play.

“Expect to see Alayna Crabtree contribute quite a bit either on the left or on the right,” Kennedy said. “She’s probably made the quickest adjustment and her style of play fits well into the collegiate game.” 

Despite the new faces, Kennedy said the Eagles plan to push forward with their up-tempo offense. The team is aware of the momentum and expectations surrounding this season, but Kennedy said he plans to take it slow and play game to game. 

With the ACC’s new shortened schedule, the Eagles will only play eight matches. The conference is split into geographical pods this year, and BC’s includes Notre Dame, Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Louisville. Pitt and Louisville each finished last year ranked in the AVCA Coaches’ Top 25, and Syracuse and Notre Dame have both made the NCAA tournament in recent years. 

“I think we really have to use this fall as an opportunity to grow and not worry so much about the results,” Kennedy said. “To think we’re going to be as crisp and as polished as we were a year ago with 10 freshmen—I don’t think that’s realistic.”

BC’s schedule is one of the toughest in the ACC and arguably all of the NCAA, so Kennedy’s focus for the season is to develop players rather than worry about standings. His developmental attitude does not mean Kennedy will not be playing to win, but he said his main goal is to polish young players and help them to find their place on the team.

 “The culture is really good right now,” Kennedy said. “We’ve kind of taken the approach that we are not going to complain about anything and we are just going to embrace what opportunities we get.”

Despite so many unfamiliar roster names, the Eagles have no new transfers this year—something Kennedy said he takes pride in. Rather than trying to nab the flashiest transfer each year, the Eagles build their talent from the ground up with each freshman class. 

This season marks yet another fresh start for a team that capitalized upon its last fresh start in 2018, and it will undoubtedly be exciting to watch the talented young group of players develop over the next few years.

Featured Image by Maggie DiPatri / Heights Editor

September 27, 2020