By MIKE SMITH
After reaching the NCAA national tournament last year, expectations are high in New Rochelle for the Monroe Women’s Volleyball team this season. For Monroe’s returning core‑as well as the head coach‑last year’s success is both the benchmark for the program’s aims this year, as well as a frustrating reminder of the improvement the team needs to make in 2013.
The Mustang’s 35-7 regular season record and hot play through regionals earned the team their first-ever run in nationals last year, once at nationals, however, the Mustangs’ season stalled as they dropped their first two games.
According to head coach Nephtali Delgado Reyes, that early ouster at nationals will be a rallying cry in the 2013 season.
“We went to nationals, but we didn’t play well,” said Delgado Reyes. “But I think, this year, the experience that our sophomores got going to nationals; I think that’s going to give them more confidence as we get ready for this year.”
Although reaching the finals is by no means a given–the team will have to win regionals and districts in order to advance to the big stage–he feels that with the talent the team possesses, if they play to their capabilities, another shot that the national tourney could be in the cards.
Sophomore Hazel Ortiz-Rosado was quick to point out that, for the returnees, the goal is to erase the bitter taste from last year’s tourney run.
“One of the main things we’ve been talking about is how bad we did at nationals,” she said. “But we’re going to show a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication this year.”
Ortiz-Rosado also believes that this year’s team could have more talent than last year’s squad, thanks in part to the high number of returnees–including Ortiz-Rosado, Lydia Ortiz and All-American Tathiana Cordero along with a stellar recruiting class. The Mustangs have brought in seven new players, four of which hail from Puerto Rico, where Delgado Reyes is a highly regarded volleyball mind.
“Being from Puerto Rico, I know all the players on the island,” he said. “But we’re also looking for players in other areas too; Florida, Connecticut, New Jersey as well.”
One incoming freshman, outside hitter Lee Ann Ocasio, said that the tight-knit Monroe Communitiy–and the leadership demonstrated by the team’s older players‑has her excited for the season to kick off on Aug. 23.
“This is a strong team and I think there’s a lot of confidence,” she said. “It’s been great so far. The other girls have all been supportive and so have all the other teams here.”
“Everybody has clicked really well so far,” added Ortiz-Rosado. “We’ve had some really good practices so far.”