Wait to dig DU Volleyball until next year? Maybe not

Photo: Pioneer players warm-up for the Pioneer Classic. Denver swept the tournament 3-0 and moved to a team-record 6-0.

DU volleyball was always going to be good this season but a 6-0 start, winning 18 of 21 games and two tournament wins (College of Charleston and Pioneer Classic), following the loss of four starters from last year’s NCAA squad, seemed improbable.

But why wait – DU can do big things this season.

The Pioneers have a ‘program best’ start and face Minnesota (#1/AVCA) and Texas (#5/AVCA) this week on the road. The Pioneers look poised to battle just about any program in the country with their combination of returning stars and the emergence of incoming players, all contributing in a big way.

Head coach Tom Hogan said it all after their second consecutive tournament win, “”Our team’s depth is a major reason for our early success and we embrace every competitive opportunity together.  We continue to test different lineups, challenging our team to adapt to any situation.  Our ability to play multiple players at different positions allows us to be flexible and adapt to our opponents.”

The Pioneers’ depth and pace of play, combined with increased emphasis on service strategy and conditioning makes every point and stop a challenge for their opponents.

The Pioneers have seven newcomers including five freshman (they redshirted 6’7″ freshman Jaden Sandoval) and one graduate transfer, Teal Schnurr, from Marquette. So how are they doing?

Freshman middle blocker Tina Boe is second in blocks on the team. Setter Ellie Anderson is second with 81 assists and leads the squad in service aces. Outside hitter Lydia Bartolo has 17 kills and 39 digs – 5th on the team. Libero’s Macy Carrabine and Lauren McManus have a combined 29 digs and 9 assists. And graduate transfer right side hitter Teal Schnurr looks like a fantastic pickup and is tied for 3rd on the team in kills (34) and chipped in with 9 blocks. And, Hogan is not hesitating to throw any of them into the fire.

If that is not enough, the returning veterans seem to have elevated their games, too.

At the Charleston Tournament, senior Piyusha Boteju had 29 assists and four Pioneers had 10 plus kills against USC Upstate. In the clinching match against Charleston, senior Kayla Principato had 20 kills and Boteju had 28 assists and 11 digs. Junior middle blocker Emma Willis chipped in with 7 blocks to seal the match and the tournament victory. Senior Cassie Baird was named to the All-Tournament team and Kayla Principato was the MVP. Two days later, Principato was also named Summit League Player of the Week.

During the Pioneer Classic, outside hitter Becca Latham was named MVP of the tournament behind 34 kills and 10 total blocks on the weekend. Piyusha Boteju and Tina Boe made the All-Tournament Team.

Video: Pioneers (white) win UC Davis (blue) service at the Pioneer Classic tournament.

Different players are emerging each match to make meaningful contributions.

After six full matches, Becca Latham leads the Pioneers with kills (69), followed by Principato (68). Piyusha Boteju has racked up an incredible 130 assists and is playing better than ever under Hogan. Libero Cassidy Rooke leads the Pioneers with 67 digs with Boteju hot on her heels with 63. Emma Willis has collected 28 blocks, followed by Tina Boe’s 23.

What should you expect against a play-fast Minnesota team and a tall Texas team on the road in Austin, Texas? The Pioneers will come in waves. Expect Coach Hogan and his assistants Batten and Tupac to throw the kitchen sink at both teams with this squad that is deeper than anyone expected – at least to observers outside the program. The Pioneers just might make some noise in Austin, Texas later this week. And, of course, later this season.