Volleyball Looks for Rebound Season

by Will Murphy '23 on September 15, 2022
Sports Co-Editor

Friar Sports

The Providence College volleyball team is coming off a season in which they earned a record of 16-15, with a Big East conference record of 4-14. They sported an impressive non-conference record of 12-1, and despite their struggles in Big East play, they remained competitive against strong opponents. The year saw three players make the weekly Big East  Honor Roll: Maryanne Boyle ’24, Allison Barber ’22 twice, and Shaliyah Rhoden ’25 on three separate occasions. Additionally, Rhoden was honored as a member of the All-Big East Freshman Team. 

The team is looking to build off of last year’s success coming into this year’s season, although they will miss the presence of Barber, a four-year starter, who graduated last year. When asked what it was like dealing with the loss of such an important presence on last year’s team, Coach Margot Royer-Johnson was honest: “It’s an adjustment. As the setter, Barber was the quarterback of the team.”

However, Coach Royer-Johnson was optimistic heading into this year, citing the veteran presence of two returning upperclassmen: Brielle Mullally ’23 and Sammie Ruggles ’24. Coach Royer-Johnson also mentioned the team has been able to experiment with two different offenses because of each setter’s unique skill set. When asked about young players who could assume larger roles this year, coach Royer-Johnson sounded optimistic about the direction of the team: “Shaliyah Rhoden has high expectations this year, along with Kayla Grant ’25, and Jiji Lykins ’25.” Rhoden was selected as a preseason All-Big East member, while Grant transferred to PC from Stephen F. Austin State University. Coach Royer-Johnson raved about Lykins’ fundamental skills, which she pairs with great athleticism. 

When asked about leadership within the team, coach Royer-Johnson mentioned two names in particular: Mackenzie Taylor GS ’22 and Jennifer Leitman ’23. Taylor, a graduate student, has started for the Friars since her freshman year, while Leitman was expected to have a large role before suffering a knee injury early in the year. 

Photo Courtesy of PC Athletics

The Friars were able to get off to a hot start in their first match of the season, beating Central Connecticut State University three sets to one. Despite losing the first set, they displayed impressive resilience winning three sets unanswered, led by Leitman and Rhoden with 12 and 11 kills respectively. The Friars followed that victory with a 3-1 loss to Iona College but rebounded nicely the following day with a 3-0 sweep of The College of the Holy Cross. In their victory over Holy Cross, the Friars were again led by Rhoden, who put up 12 kills, and Ruggles, who paced the team with 32 assists. The following weekend, Sept. 2-3, the Friars had their most highly anticipated invitational of the year. When asked which invitational the team most looks forward to, coach Royer-Johnson was quick to mention the University of Texas Austin Classic. With four players from Texas already on the roster and several more recruits from Texas committed to the Friars, coach Royer-Johnson said the team enjoyed the opportunity to play in front of their families, friends, and recruits. 

Photo Courtesy of PC Athletics

On the topic of recruits, when asked about her favorite aspect of coaching at the College, Coach Royer-Johnson was very complimentary of the people at the school. She mentioned that she doesn’t only recruit players that fit the program, but people who fit the culture as well. It proved to be a successful weekend for the Friars, winning two out of three against strong opponents. They started the weekend off strong with a 3-1 win over Texas A&M University for Commerce. In that match, they were led by Emma Nelson ’23 and Mullally with 16 and 13 kills respectively. They followed that victory up with another win, this time versus the University of North Texas, 3-2. Rhoden and Ruggles starred for the Friars again, leading them in kills and assists respectively. In their final match of the weekend the Friars faced a tough University of Texas Arlington team, and ultimately lost 3-2 despite strong efforts from Grant and Sasha Rudich ’23. 

After returning home from Texas, the team had another heavily anticipated weekend of matches, this time the 17th Annual Friar Classic. Coach Royer-Johnson said the team looks forward to this event all year, as parents of players from all around the country make the trip and get together to celebrate the team. The Friars would kick off the weekend with a match against Saint Peter’s University, beating them in three straight sets. Boyle played a large role in that match, accumulating 11 kills, while Mullally racked up 20 assists. The team continued to build momentum in their subsequent match, knocking off the New Jersey Institute of Technology 3-1. In that match, the Friars were led by strong performances from Nelson and Taylor. As they looked to complete an unbeaten weekend, a rematch with The College of the Holy Cross stood in their way. The Friars picked up right where they left off, dominating to the tune of a 3-0 sweep, capping off an impressive weekend of wins. 

Looking ahead, the Friars will play three more non-conference games against Temple University, George Washington University, and the University of Pennsylvania at the Penn Invitational before entering Big East play. The team is aware of the challenges that lie ahead regarding a tough Big East schedule but have set some goals for themselves. Coach Royer-Johnson commented, “The biggest goals that we focus on are process goals, giving maximum effort at all times, and the team theme: build her up.” With strong upperclassmen leadership, a good crop of talented underclassmen, and a team-first attitude, the Friars are poised to make waves in the 2022 season.