Sept. 22, 2009
by Ed Collins, New Bedford Standard-Times
DARTMOUTH -- Back in August, coach Steve DeRossi told the 34 players who were trying out for the UMass Dartmouth women's volleyball team that everyone had the same chance to make the roster. There would be no guaranteed spots for any of the Corsairs' returners. The slate had been wiped clean and everyone was on an equal footing for playing time heading into the team's preseason camp. "That got everybody's attention," senior hitter Jaclyn Davis said. "We all worked hard in the summer. Nobody slacked off and nobody wanted to lose their spot on the team." With the law laid down for everyone to see, the Corsairs had one of their most competitive camps and DeRossi ended up keeping the 18 players who impressed him the most with their ability and desire to play the game. "Everybody took the challenge to heart and we have a team that's been playing with a lot of energy and focus," DeRossi said. "We needed to toughen up and now we have players who love to play volleyball who are also mentally and physically tough." After being picked to finish sixth in the Little East Conference's preseason coaches poll, the Corsairs got off to a very quick start and will take a 7-0 record into Saturday's league-opening matches against Keene State College and Western Connecticut State University. The host Owls were ranked second in the preseason poll and the Colonials rounded out the top three. "We've been playing well together, but we're going to have to take our game to the next level against Keene and Western Connecticut," Davis said. "We'll be up against two of the top teams in the conference and it's going to be a challenge. The games will be played at a much faster pace and everybody's excited to see how we do." Coming off a 12-14 season and a sixth-place finish in the LEC with a 1-5 record, DeRossi likes the team he'll be working with in his third season with the Corsairs. "We've come a long way. I knew we were going to be better, but I wasn't expecting a 7-0 start," said DeRossi, who also coaches boys volleyball at New Bedford High School, where he has led the Whalers to eight state championships. "We lost three key players from last season, but we were able to replace them with equal or better talent." Jessica Goncalves, a freshman from New Bedford, has stepped in and done a great job at setter, senior middle blocker Amanda Langfield, a transfer from Framingham State College, has been an impact player at the net, and senior Aly Zagame has made her mark at libero. "Our offense has been very efficient and we have some nice depth to work with," DeRossi said. "We've also been doing a really great job on serve reception and that's made it easier to get into a flow on offense and set up our attack." Sophomore outside hitter Allie Mastrocola and junior outside hitter Eleni Tsaparakis have been go-to players at the net, and DeRossi has liked what he's seen from sophomore hitter Cami Ascher, who's 5-foot-11 and swings well on the outside. Goncalves, who earned Little East Rookie of the Week honors a week ago, has already made a big impact. "Jessica is very athletic and she's an experienced setter," DeRossi said. "She's a freshman in the classroom, but she's been a veteran leader who's set a good tone for her teammates. She does a great job communicating with her teammates and she's comfortable running the show for us on the court." The Corsairs, who feature a nice mix of veterans and newcomers who have meshed very quickly, have been pushing each other at practice and they've benefited from some hard work in the offseason that got them ready for the season and has them prepared for their first LEC tests. "We're eager to get our conference schedule underway and Keene and Western Connecticut will be bigger, faster and more experienced than any of the teams we've already faced," DeRossi said. "We'll be fine if we don't give away points, because we're playing with a lot of confidence and we have tough players who always give it their all and work hard for every point."