St. Francis volleyball looks to improve under new head coach

Abra Rummel hadn’t yet seen the St. Francis College women’s volleyball team play when she was hired on as its new head coach. She had seen one thing though — their 7-25 overall record last season — and it made her nervous.

“At that point I hadn’t seen the team play and a record like that would make anyone nervous,” Rummel said. “When I finally got a chance to watch tapes and we started having practice it was like, ‘Oh my goodness. This is actually a good group. With a little work this could be a successful team.’”

Last year's Terriers squad didn’t play very well, in part because of 11 freshmen or sophomores on the inexperienced squad. This year is going to be similar with 10 sophomores and juniors, but after three weeks of working with Rummel some of that talent is beginning to show.

“We're still young, but definitely better,” said junior Kelly O'Halloran. “We've been working hard in the preseason. Coach has helped us so much, she helps us with a lot of positive feedback and this season is looking good.”

The biggest thing Rummel hopes for this season is to win the winnable matches. Last year’s team, being so young, had the tendency to fall behind early and fail to play up to their ability. Rummel hopes that with more experience and practice the team will play more consistently and avoid letting worse teams beat them. Once they do that, they can start turning into a perennial contender.

“It's a learning process,” Rummel said. “A lot of our focus has been just on experience in the game. One thing I preach is to recognize the situation you are in and making the appropriate decisions based on that situation. If we play high-percentage volleyball then we’ll force teams to beat us instead of allowing them to get the best of us.”

Junior Maggie Niu, who like Rummel is from Arizona, loves the new style of play and said that the focus on fundamentals, repetition and speed is going to mesh well with this team.

“It's that Arizona style where we focus on basic skills every day and we do millions of repetitions until we get it right,” Niu said. “It's also a quicker style of offense with higher passes so you have more time to take a full approach.”

With only two seniors, Jillian Tracy and Ali Long, Niu and O'Halloran are expected to play big leadership roles as juniors on the Terriers both on and off the court. Another player that can have a major impact is sophomore Domenique Gerard as an outside hitter. "(Gerard) has the potential to be one of the top players in the conference given her speed, power and jumping ability," Rummel said.

This is Rummel's first season as a Division-I head coach. Previously, she was the first assistant coach at Rider University and was a volunteer assistant at Princeton University during the 2013 season. She was the co-head coach at San Diego City College from 2008 to 2012. As a player, she stared at Scottsdale Community College and Holy Names University in both volleyball and tennis and played pro-volleyball from 2008 to 2012.

The Terriers open their season in Long Island at the Hofstra University Invitational on Friday where they will face Hofstra, Santa Clara, Lafayette College and Quinnipiac this weekend. Their home opener will be against Iona College in Brooklyn Heights on Sept. 3. Be sure to follow their season at BrooklynEagleSports.com.