Rowan volleyball goes 3-1 at Invitational, sweep Rutgers-Newark in NJAC opener

Sophomore setter Katelyn Paxton sets freshman outside hitter Lauren Horbacewicz on a one-ball during the Profs Invitational. Rowan would go 3-1 in the weekend tournament. - Photo Editor/Amanda Palma

Year-in and year-out, teams take a look back on previous seasons in order to better themselves for the upcoming campaign that knocks on the door. It’s easy to see at first-glance that this journey seamed like just another reflection of last for Rowan volleyball. A tough 0-4 start put the Profs in a hole in 2016, but what about this year? The team began in the same hole, but have found a way to dig themselves out of it quickly enough to win four-of-five and enjoy the left side of the win-loss column.

Returning home to host the Profs Invitational, the brown and gold began the week with wins against Widener University and Dickinson College on Friday. Rowan would then split their last two games on Saturday, defeating Keystone College and falling to Gettysburg College.

They say defense wins championships, and although it’s too early to predict what the future holds, the Profs put their defending on a showcase. A pair of middle-hitters highlighted the stat sheet, with freshman Lauren Horbacewicz stuffing 16 attacks at the net and junior Erin Keegan following suit, collecting 53 digs in the tournament.

“Our defense is much stronger than it was last year,” said head coach Deana Jespersen. “Defensively, we pick up a lot of balls and our digs per-set are much higher.” 

Rowan has averaged 15.6 digs per-set thus far and are on pace to improve their 15.1 drawing they sketched throughout all of last season.

Offensively, the brown and gold look to find a peaceful balance, and plan on doing so by spreading talent all around the court.

“Last year, we relied heavily on one or two players to hit the ball a lot,” Jespersen said. “Now we are able to move the ball around, which makes us a lot less predictable for teams.”

The team has done just that, notching seven players to have double-digits in kills.

For a roster that is filled with 10 underclassmen and just five upperclassmen, influence isn’t hard to come by.

“I would say that it’s a difference in a balance of leadership,” said senior Gina Kisley. “Me and my fellow senior [Mary-Grace Testa] are both good leaders, but we also have the underclassmen leading, so we have a lot of different leaders.”

Kisley and Testa both serve as team captains along with sophomore outside hitter Megan Jacobi.

Tuesday introduced the beginning of New Jersey Athletic Conference play for the Profs. They welcomed Rutgers-Newark as well as the first-100 fans to some free chocolate milkshakes. Always a bonus.

It was a quick game that saw Rowan sweep the Scarlet Raiders 3-0. Sophomore setter Katelyn Paxton led the team with two aces while adding 22 assists to bring her to 186 total on the year. Jacobi and Horbacewicz matched each other’s eight kills, and sophomore defensive specialist Amy Staiber recorded 20 digs.

“I think consistently we have played well during NJAC play and then during playoffs we get kind of nervous and kind of start to lose our momentum.” Jespersen said. “Our goal is to get home court advantage.”

The brown and gold head north to play Ursinus College in Collegeville, PA, on Saturday at 10:30 a.m.

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