For three years, the Manhattan College volleyball team achieved regular season success the program never experienced before. From 2013 to 2015, the Jaspers notched three consecutive 20-win seasons, the first time such a feat had been achieved in school history.
But the 2016 season was a setback. The Jaspers went 12-20, missed out on the MAAC tournament, and lost Head Coach Mark Jones. The disappointing regular season — the only regular season that culminated with a losing record in Jones’ seven-year-tenure — cost him his job.
Now the mission in 2017 is to get back to the winning ways the Jaspers grew accustomed to for six of the last seven seasons. This time, Manhattan will count on the services of a new head coach, Lora Sarich, who comes to Manhattan after four seasons managing the team at the University of Northwestern Ohio.
Sarich believes that while the Jaspers can aspire to contend for a championship, this year will serve to get the team acclimated to a new culture and to their teammates.
“I think our primary objective is just to focus on ourselves,” Sarich said. “Focus on the relationships, what we can control on our side of the net, rather than worrying too much about what they’re doing on the other side of the net.”
Forming new relationships and building chemistry will be of the utmost importance to the Jaspers, who have five freshmen in the incoming recruiting class. They’ll also have to rely on some returning players that did not get much playing time last season, but will now have to take on a bigger role this year.
“Our weakness is just our team dynamic,” Sarich said. “Just getting everybody on the same page and the same system.
“Our system will be different from what they ran in the past, offensively and defensively.”
Although Sarich admits the systems will be different, she believes the team’s identity will remain the same: Defense. Under Jones, the Jaspers consistently ranked among the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference leaders in digs.
“I think that defense wins championships,” Sarich said. “So I think that you have to start there. If you can’t defend and have ball control, you can’t attack.”
Sarich’s recruiting class seems to support her claim. Of the five freshmen, two are defensive specialists and two are middle blockers. Jade Jeffrey, the lone offensive recruit, will join a group of attackers that will have much to prove this season.
Manhattan will lose its top two attackers in Milena Janjusevic and Ivana Kostic, who graduated. Outside hitters Olyvia Chaltas and Sandra Lozanova will lead the charge on the offensive end.
Manhattan can also no longer count on its team leader — and perhaps the greatest libero in school history — in Allie Yamashiro. The recent graduate became the program leader in digs, personifying Manhattan’s gritty, defensive approach.
“She’s a great leader on the court and off the court, so I think it will be hard to replace her,” Sarich said. “I don’t think that you can just replace it, I think that it’s always evolving.”
Sarich hopes that the team’s depth will make up for the production Yamashiro and the rest of the graduating seniors were responsible for.
“We’re very balanced in positions this year,” Sarich said. “I feel like it’s hard to find balance in positions, and I feel like that’s something that, between the returners and the incoming players, we have that balance.”
The Jaspers take the court for the first time this season Aug. 25 when they take on Chicago State University at the Western Illinois Tournament.