Editors note: Interviews were conducted on Sept. 16, before the Jaspers played Marist and Siena. The Jaspers split their road trip, beating Marist 3-1 and losing to Siena 3-1.
To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best. It’s a tired old sports cliché, but the Manhattan College volleyball team is buying into it.
The Jaspers open up their conference play against the 2014 MAAC Tournament runner-ups in the Marist Red Foxes and the champions in the Siena Saints.
The contests present an opportunity for the Jaspers to show early on in the season that they will be a force to be reckoned with.
“I’m excited that we’re on the road playing the two teams because I think that’s going to set the tone,” head coach Mark Jones said about playing Marist and Siena. “We’re going to know right away how tough the conference is and we’re not going to take anyone lightly.”
“I think it’s important,” Jones added. “Especially with the new group that we have, to get to see what the conference is like the first weekend and not wait until several weeks when we start playing teams that traditionally haven’t done well.”
The first two matches will be a tough challenge for Manhattan, but the start of MAAC play might just be coming at the right time.
After going 6-6 and losing five of the last six in their non-conference schedule, the Jaspers need something new to look forward to.
Claire Van Dyk, among the MAAC leaders in kills, views the matches against Marist and Siena as a chance to learn more about what the team is made of.
“I think we’d rather start against the toughest teams and know what we need to work on,” Van Dyk said. “If you start off against some of the weaker teams you don’t see all the qualities that you need to work on as much.”
Allie Yamashiro, one of the team captains, thinks the start of conference play will allow the Jaspers to turn a new page.
“That’s always a good time to get all of the kinks out, but now that we’re starting conference, it’s like getting us more focused on the actual goal of the season, which is to win MAACs,” Yamashiro said. “Plus, we’re 6-6 so it’s like we’re starting all over.”
If the team is to “start all over,” it must correct some mistakes it has made during its mini slump.
“We need to work a little bit better as a team and be a little more consistent,” Jones said. “I think that’s what we’re lacking right now. The team chemistry on the court and the consistency is really kind of hurting us right now.”
“I think it’s all just the little things,” Yamashiro said about what has caused the Jaspers’ slump. “Things that we can work on in practice like communication errors or just bettering touches.
Nothing drastic, just we need to pay attention to more of the details.”
Getting through this early test can potentially prove beneficial for the Jaspers. Following the road trip, six of the next seven conference matches will be at home.
It will be important for the Jaspers to finish with a strong conference record, since this season, only six teams will make the MAAC Tournament and the top two in the standings will receive a bye into the semifinals.
The Jaspers know the importance of receiving one of the two byes. They’ve made it one of their goals this season, and know that the road to achieving that goal starts with the matches against Marist and Siena.
“We need to get a bye, that’s important for us,” Jones said. “But really, we’re going to take one game at a time. We can’t get ahead of ourselves. We still have 18 matches still to play in the conference.”