Preview: 2021 DU Volleyball Prioritizes Student-Athletes

With the delayed 2020 season beginning this month, the DU volleyball team is back in the gym. And, like all of us, this program and its student-athletes are facing an uncertain season. As a result, head coach Tom Hogan has devised a plan that is far from typical or normal for a team facing such uncertain times.

Despite years of success, the prior coaching ‘blueprint’ is out for this season and the squad has new priorities for the 2021 season.

“In a normal season, we place a lot of focus on our systems, strategies, and the development of our players. This season is anything but normal. Our three main focuses for this season are Health, Flexibility, and Positivity. Health is far and away our biggest focus – ensuring our players’ health mentally, physically, and emotionally. We are prioritizing decisions that help reduce the risk of catching COVID while monitoring our student-athletes’ mental health and creating an emotional support system during these challenging times.”

That, of course, is not to say this group is not mentally tough. With six straight NCAA appearances, this is a veteran group steeped in “must-win games” and a culture that rebounds from adversity. But this year is different. Adaptability has become the program priority as Hogan’s team faces a mountain of uncertainty during these COVID-19 times.

 “Flexibility will be key as we adapt to changes and challenges in real-time. At any point, we could face training time changes, roster limitations, match cancellations, or enhanced safety precautions. We are only planning out one week at a time and focusing on the day in front of us. This will help us reduce the anxiety that comes with uncertainty, and allow us to react and adjust to whatever comes our way. Positivity will be the guiding principle to ensure we optimize and make the most of this unusual season. We are grateful for every opportunity we have to play the sport we love, as well as for the work so many have done to make this season possible. We want to make sure our mindset reflects that positivity. If we do these three things well, we will put ourselves in a position to achieve something incredible during this historic season.”

This season will be different (isn’t everything) with no non-conference matches and a 16 game regular-season conference schedule comprised of double home weekend matches. The top four teams advance in a winner take all auto-bid to the NCAA Tournament. With no non-conference matches, the Summit League is likely to have only one team advance from the conference tournament in Sioux Falls, SD.

Denver has a wealth of riches on the front line. Star outside hitter Katarina Marinkovic (282 kills/’18) returns after a year off recovering from a serious leg injury. One of the best front-line players in college volleyball, Marinkovic is at full speed according to reports. The flanks are reinforced by DU’s top player and captain Lydia Bartolo (374 kills/’19)  with experienced sophomores Ari Winters (181 kills/’19) and Kalea Fobert (204 kills/’19) to complete a deep collection of outside hitters. Add to these riches of talent and experience, graduate transfer Italian star Erica Andrich with her high-level international experience and DU has one of the deepest groups of outside hitters in the country.

DU is solid at middle blocker, too. Tina Boe (104 blocks/19) is Denver’s floor leader and the athletic Brianna Green (131 blocks/’19) can dominate against any player in the Summit League. Incoming 6’3″ freshman Gemma Topping adds valuable size along the front line which will come in useful during the conference tournament.

Denver is returning top setters senior Ellie Anderson (610 assists/’19) and Lorrin Poulter (330 assists/’19) from last year’s squad. Returning libero Macy Carrabine (422 digs/’19)  will quarterback from the libero spot backed by Lauren McManus (101 digs/’19). DU also added Lydia Bartolo’s little sister, Gianna Bartolo – a 3 time 4A state champion and Prep Volleyball All-American.

Hogan’s focus on health, flexibility and positivity puts student-athletes first. With an Olympic coaching and training background, Hogan and his staff are taking a holistic approach that prioritizes mental health over physical development. As a result, it’s little surprise to see why DU volleyball has some of the most loyal, successful and unified groups on campus. And, as usual, expect outstanding performances.

DU begins the season with a pair of matches against Omaha on January 31st/February 1st.

Photo courtesy of Denver Volleyball

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