The Howard University women’s volleyball team sits at 6-6 after the Penn State Classic. The Bison left University Park, Pennsylvania, with a couple of wins and one loss to even out their record.
Howard started the weekend with a 3-0 win against the Coastal Carolina Chanticleers (8-5). The Bison matched well with Coastal Carolina, showing out on the defensive and offensive front. The most significant statistical difference between the teams was Howard’s advantage in kills, which has been their strong suit all season. They lead the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) in kills per set. Sophomore middle blocker Cimone Woodard recorded seven kills, two aces, and five total blocks. Freshman outside hitter Rya McKinnon recorded 11 kills and six digs, with a .526 hitting percentage.
The Bison’s second match was against the hosting team, the Penn State Nittany Lions (11-0). Howard was hoping to make history by getting their first win against Penn State.
Unfortunately, the Bison were on the receiving end of a sweep in this matchup, extending their consecutive losing streak against Penn State. Howard was outmatched in every statistical category. The most prominent points of emphasis were in the blocks and assists, which halted Howard’s offensive game plan. Nittany Lions’ middle blockers Allie Holland and Taylor Trammell produced 10 block assists, which contributed to the 20 total by Penn State. Senior setter Kayla Diaz recorded 23 assists but was outperformed by Penn State setter Seleisa Elisaia, who totaled 37 for the matchup.
Howard bounced back from this loss with a 3-0 victory against the University of Albany’s Great Danes (3-10). Freshman hitter McKinnon once again shined for the Bison, recording 13 kills, 10 digs, and two total blocks. McKinnon’s weekend at the Penn State Classic earned the freshman her second MEAC Rookie of the Week award this season. Howard assistant coach Sareea Freeman spoke about McKinnon’s impact on the team.
“Rya plays a huge part in our overall success,” Freeman said. “She’s come in as a freshman and really has earned her spot. She plays with a lot of confidence and heart, and the team really thrives off of that. Without her even knowing, she’s a natural-born leader on the team just by the tenacity in how she plays.”
Senior setter Diaz also had another impressive showing, ending the weekend’s final game with 35 assists, three aces, and eight digs.
Howard University (6-6) currently ranks third in the MEAC behind Coppin State (9-7) and Delaware State (10-3). Freeman, however, believes the team is better than their record indicates.
“Honestly, I don’t think that’s where we deserve to be,” Freeman said. “I definitely feel like we are better than our 6-6 record. A lot of that was due to injuries. We had a couple players out, which probably has affected our flow a little bit. I definitely feel like after this weekend, we’ll get back to being the No. 1 spot.”
One thing the volleyball team can be optimistic about is the second half of the season. Last year around this time, Howard had a record of 3-8. The course of the season changed after the Bison went 15-4 over the next 19 games, including three victories to win the MEAC Tournament. Howard excelled against MEAC opponents with a 12-2 record. Assistant coach Freeman believes the team will continue to improve down the line.
“I just think it’s about getting really good with what we have,” Freeman said. “We have a lot of weapons. Once we get our consistency together and continue to build the confidence–because we do have a very young team–they’ll be able to really achieve what they’re capable of.”
The Bison sported a dominant 9-4 record at home in 2021, so the home-field advantage should play into the team’s success again.
“The girls are excited to play at home,” Freeman continued. “It’s really important, the support we have around the Howard volleyball program. I really think when we’re at home, the girls are able to feel that.”
Howard students will certainly bring the energy for their volleyball team at Burr Gymnasium this season. The team will host its first MEAC rivalry game on Sept. 23 against the Delaware State Hornets.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew