Jaspers Volleyball Gains Unlikely New Teammates

By Megan LaCreta, Arts & Entertainment Editor

When you look out onto the volleyball court this semester, you’ll see some familiar faces. Where have you seen these faces before? Probably the roster for the women’s basketball team.

The Manhattan College volleyball team has welcomed four players from the women’s basketball team to compete with them this season. Anne Bair, ​​Christina Katsamouri, Bella Nascimento and Leyla Ozturk were all brought on to combat a shortage of players as the season began. Only four veteran Jaspers had returned to the team following the 2021 season.

A slew of injuries hit the team at the beginning of the current season, dropping the original roster from nine players to only five, according to women’s basketball head coach Heather Vulin. Vulin explained that volleyball head coach Mauro Miletic and assistant coach Sara Atai reached out to her in hopes of recruiting players to join the team, so they would not have to forfeit any matches.  

Tryouts were held, and four of the seven players who attended were selected to join the team. Nascimento in particular has been a valuable addition, landing on the team leaderboards for kills against St. Francis, aces, blocks, assists and digs against Columbia and kills and digs against Lafayette.

Manhattan College volleyball is coming off a particularly rough previous season, winning only two matches and facing controversy surrounding head coach Lora Egbert, whose choice to remain unvaccinated against COVID-19 led to her at times coaching from outside the gym, as well as frustration from players. On Aug. 1, Mauro Miletic, who stood in for Egbert last season, started in the role of head coach. 

Christina Katsamouri, women’s basketball guard and forward who landed a spot on the volleyball roster, noted the enthusiasm of the new coaches and an improved morale amongst the players.

“The coaches made a huge impact on the team … [Miletic] wants to do something with the team, with the other assistant coach, and that carries on to the girls and they’re more into playing,” said Katsamouri. “They want to do something this year, they don’t just play to play. They want to actually do what they can do.”

Katsamouri and the other players who have shouldered the responsibility of two teams are certainly putting in the effort. Katsamouri and Nascimento have played 14 and 21 sets respectively, out of the team’s 21 total sets.

Vulin explained that, despite the commitment that comes with being a D1 athlete, she wanted to give her players the opportunity to try out and support the team.

“It’s still preseason, and I also was a two-sport athlete,” Vulin said. “I also played volleyball and basketball in college, but it was at the D2 level, not [D1]. So I thought it would be kind of a really cool experience for anyone that wants to do it, because now they can forever say they also played D1 volleyball.”

Despite their best intentions, the start of basketball preseason will put an end to the players’ dual roles. Katsamouri explained that the preseason officially starts on Sept. 26, and the intense practice schedule would likely prevent her and others playing on both teams from continuing to play with the volleyball team. 

Katsamouri expressed confidence that the injured players would be back in good health in time to make up for their loss, noting at the time of the interview that she believed the doubleheader against Columbia and Lafayette on Sept. 10 would be the last match the basketball players would be needed. However, Nascimento ended up playing in the match against LIU on Sept. 14, while senior Lizzi Brown is the last veteran player to remain absent from the court.

Even though the players’ time on the volleyball team will be cut short, Vulin noted that they already have made a positive impact on the season.

“I just thought it was really generous of my girls to offer to play and participate because it gave the players that were healthy a chance to compete, and gave the coaches… opportunities to coach,” Vulin said. “I thought it was just great teamwork on their part, so I was really proud of them.”

Katsamouri and coaches for both teams also expressed appreciation for the sense of community among Jaspers that seems to have fueled the unique agreement.

“We appreciate the support the women’s basketball team has given us as we have battled injuries early in the season,” Miletic wrote in a statement. “It’s great to see other programs here at Manhattan supporting each other. We will be sure to be in Draddy for their home games showing them the support they showed us.”

“We want to support [each other], and I believe that that’s definitely something that represents our school,” Katsamouri said. “And it’s something that defines Jasper nation, and Jaspers in general. These are the types of athletes that we have on campus at Manhattan College.”