Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya The team reacts to return the ball during a previous match. The players will need to compensate for their youth throughout the season.

After falling short of the Big East postseason tournament last season, the Georgetown women’s volleyball team graduated two top players and recruited a number of freshmen for a very young, untested team. Despite the potential problems this may create, the players and coach remain enthusiastic and upbeat about their prospects this season.

Ranked fifth in the preseason poll, just behind Virginia Tech, the Hoyas lie just on the other side of the coveted fourth spot for the postseason. Considering that only two seniors remain on the roster, as compared with seven freshmen and sophomores, this developing squad’s young shoulders carry tough expectations. Head coach Li Liu acknowledges that the team’s youth may pose a challenge throughout the season.

“I think this is going to be a learning year for us because we are so young,” Liu said. “Our middle is a junior, but all the other offensive players will be sophomores or freshman, so that’s going to be really tough. We’re anticipating that they’re going to have a hard time.”

Despite a lack of experience, the team has shown tremendous desire and enthusiasm during their practices and has demonstrated a willingness to develop and improve together.

“So far things are going really well because our team has the best attitude,” Liu said. “I feel like I cannot ask them for more, they have been doing so well. I know we’re going to have a hard time down the road, but if we keep up the way that we are and the excitement about practice and games, we’ll come along really quickly. We just need patience.”

The freshmen include two outside hitters, Rachel Barton from arietta, Ga. and Jennifer Fountain from Phoenix, two middle blockers, Annie Connor of Mountain View, Calif. and Basak Karamehmet of Istanbul, Turkey, along with rightside hitter Jessica George from Kennet Square, Pa. At least two will play on the starting rotation, according to Liu. Despite having to adjust to the added pressures of collegiate-level volleyball, the freshman have adapted and integrated into the program well.

“They came in fit and have been working out,” Liu said. “The upperclassmen have been doing really well helping out; a big sister-little sister system has developed, and that makes things a lot easier. The upperclassmen have made a big difference for them and they’re so helpful.”

The Big East this year promises more challenges as the conference develops stronger programs. Perennial powerhouse Notre Dame was chosen to repeat as Big East champion, but not without competition. Miami University fields some of the best players in the conference, while Virginia Tech, Connecticut and Pittsburgh will all vie for the crown as well. Georgetown, which fell to Connecticut, Notre Dame and Pittsburgh, still posted impressive wins over Miami and Virginia Tech last season.

“We’re ranked fifth, but we need to play up to the level of the top four. I know that we’ll be ready to fight, but in reality we’re so young. The Big East is really strong and it’s getting stronger every year. Last year, we didn’t make the top four because of so many injuries. We played well against Miami; they went to the Sweet Sixteen [of the NCAA tournament] and we beat them,” Liu said.

The Hoyas are aiming high this year, looking not only to move on to the postseason, but also to advance as far as possible, according to Liu. Nevertheless, the team remains realistic about its lack of experience and intends to just take each game as it comes.

“In our goal-setting session, all of them wanted to shoot for the top four [in the Big East]. We all want to go to the Big East Championship and win, of course. Our everyday goal is moving step-by-step and winning one game at a time. The players have the idea of layered goals: NCAA tournament, Big East Championship, making the Big East top four and winning every game, and peeling them off after every step is accomplished,” Liu said. “We’re trying to set realistic goals since they’re so young, but you have to think big or you can’t accomplish anything.”

The team opens up the season with the George Mason University Tournament in Fairfax, Va. They meet their first opponent, Fairfield University, on Fri., Aug. 29 at 3 p.m. The Hoyas will first play in McDonough Gymnasium on Fri., Sept. 12 against William and Mary at 7 p.m., part of the Hoya Invitational.

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