The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

The independent student newspaper of Northeastern University

The Huntington News

What does the future of Northeastern volleyball look like as six key seniors say their goodbyes?

The+Huskies+huddle+before+a+game.+Northeastern+finished+this+season+with+an+11-14+overall%2C+9-9+CAA+record.
Sofia Sawchuk
The Huskies huddle before a game. Northeastern finished this season with an 11-14 overall, 9-9 CAA record.

Northeastern’s volleyball team finished 11-14 overall and 9-9 in conference play for the 2023-24 season. Despite clinching a CAA tournament berth by earning the final sixth seeded spot, the Huskies lost in the first round against Campbell University, 3-0. 

Although the Huskies were stacked with strong players, they failed to finalize a cohesive lineup by the end of the season, and with six central seniors graduating, what does the future of Husky volleyball look like? 

One of the critical issues the Huskies faced this season was their lack of a consistent lineup on the court. When the Huskies were down on the scoreboard, head coach Lenika Vazquez would make several substitutions that altered the flow of the game. If a player is struggling, coaches often take them out and bring in a fresh player, but these large-scale changes usually happen toward the beginning of the season as coaches test out different players and how they perform in a specific lineup. Vazquez continued making major shifts until the team’s last games. 

In their final regular season matches against Towson, the Huskies were still experiencing big lineup changes. During the first match of the series, Vazquez subbed out freshman libero Tessa Onaga for senior libero Maddie Donaphon after the second set. The libero runs the defense for a team and also sets the out-of-system balls, so a change this late in the game affects the chemistry the previous two sets had built. 

There were more subs in the second game of the series, with freshman middle blocker and opposite Leilani Gillespie getting subbed in late in the second set and graduate student middle blocker Nyla Shepherd joining the lineup in the third set. Substitutes can often be a difference-maker as they are eager to play and can boost the energy reasonably fast. However, multiple and frequent sub changes leave players that may not have chemistry with each other together, allowing for more errors on the court.

Graduate students Anabel Zier and Inbal Peleg put up a joint block. They were part of the group of six senior members of the team honored at the end of the season. (Sofia Sawchuk)

For six key members of the team, the game against Campbell may have been their last as Huskies: Donaphon, graduate student outside hitter Julianna Truscott, graduate student middle blocker Anabel Zier, senior outside hitter Defne Arliel, senior middle blocker Marika Virthe and graduate student setter Inbal Peleg. Each of these seniors was a starter for the team, and all made a noticeable impact. 

Truscott, Arliel, Virthe and Zier were all in the top five in kills for the team, and Truscott led the team in digs with 178. Zier was named to the All-CAA Second Team, and Virthe dominated the net for Northeastern, leading in blocks. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the NCAA granted student athletes another year of eligibility, so we may see some seniors return next year. 

Possibly losing six older players not only affects the starting lineups, but it affects the team’s chemistry. It was clear that the older players were big leaders on the team. Having played so long together, they had that built-in chemistry, which is something that the now young team will have to work on during the off-season. 

But, one of the biggest difference-makers for the team came from a freshman. Outside hitter Abby Reck led the team in kills in her first season with 255. Reck collected 12 double-digit kill matches during the season and was named the CAA Rookie of the Week thrice. She closed out the season by being named to the CAA All-Rookie Team. Reck’s performance as a freshman was powerful. Her positive and uplifting energy will be vital for the team going into next year as she takes over Arliel and Truscott’s role as a go-to outside hitter. 

Another outstanding freshman player was Onaga. Second on the team in digs (173) and aces (16), Onaga was all over the court — her ability to read where hitters would swing or tip was vital in her defense. Later in the season, Vazquez opted to start her over Donaphon as libero or sub her as a defensive specialist to make that difference on the court. As she steps into her sophomore season, she will be a crucial part of the Husky defense. 

As the team adjusts to the dominating graduating class leaving, younger players must step into new roles to lead the team to a better outcome than the 2023 season. Vazquez should aim to integrate the younger players into a concrete lineup early on in the season so they can build their chemistry over time. With several talented players still on the roster, Reck leading the way, and Vazquez entering her fifth season as head coach, the future of Husky volleyball looks promising.

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