Horizon favorite Cleveland State turns painful loss into positive response

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Cleveland State-Horizon League-NCAA volleyball
Cleveland State is off to a great start in 2018/Frank Janskyphoto

Some defeats provide many useful lessons and coaches will tell you that good information comes from the experience, so it’s hard to be negative.

But other losses? 

For the Cleveland State volleyball program, nothing hurt more than a September 15 defeat against Kent State, a 3-1 setback that highlighted the roster’s main issues of leadership and togetherness. In some ways, the problems didn’t come out of the blue — after three straight Horizon League regular-season and tournament championships, the Vikings were a little thin on savvy veterans and very deep in fresh faces.

But after the wake-up call last month, the alert has been sounded about Cleveland State, which stands at 4-0 in league play (10-6 overall) heading into Friday’s home match against IUPUI. 

The roster has a shared vision, with an impressive batch of younger players contributing under pressure and forming the nucleus that might fuel another powerful run under 19th-year coach Chuck Voss.        

Cleveland State-Chuck Voss-Horizon League
Cleveland State coach Chuck Voss is in his 19th season/Frank Jansky photo

“We lost to Kent State, a match we felt we never should have lost, and after that we had a sit down with the juniors and seniors and said, this is coming down to you. ‘What are you willing to do?’ “

They won their next four matches.

“The staff had met two hours before with a wide-ranging list of questions and we went down the line, asking all of them. Everybody said yes and bought in, and the last three weeks they’ve done everything they said they would. It’s been the difference –- when things don’t go our way, those girls in particular are fighting and supporting each other, staying positive and fighting through those lulls.”

Cleveland State-Rachel Stover-Horizon League
Cleveland State’s Rachel Stover/Frank Jansky photo

“We responded well. We were just so pissed off that we lost, and we knew we had to work harder. We were mad, and it sparked us,” said senior Rachel Stover, who is second on the team in kills and blocks.

“We have great talent in every position, but we had to start pulling together the same direction. I feel we are on the right track; we have to keep working together and holding each other accountable. We all have the same goals, and we know it won’t be an easy ride to get there. We have to mentally prepare before each match, and battle for every point.”

Fellow senior and defensive specialist Rachael Dohar contributes a strong vocal presence on the court, and the Vikings are bolstered by a slew of youngsters.

Sophomore Emily DeGeorge leads the team in kills (at 5-foot-9); freshman setter Christina Grecol has been a revelation, and sophomore Hannah Greene has evolved from a part-timer last year to a thumping force in the middle. To cap it off, new DS Mackenzie Connor is considered by Voss to be the best one he’s had as a freshman.

“Emily is one of the best six-rotation outsides I’ve had. There’s lots on her plate, unfortunately maybe too much for a sophomore,” Voss said. “Hannah has taken a full-time role now, and both those kids are fully committed and will do whatever it takes. And we’ve seen Christina be very effective as a floor general. You’d like your freshmen to just go out and play, but there’s a lot on her plate and she’s handling it well.”

“We were nervous going in and not sure what to expect, but these younger kids are stepping up and filling the roles we need. I really like how we’re playing right now; we’re pushing one another in practice to get better,” Stover said. “I’m not going to settle. Each of our opponents are giving us their best shot every time out, and we won’t take any teams lightly. I look forward to all of us getting better.”

The preseason choice to claim another Horizon League title, the Vikings face a meaty challenge after Friday, with four consecutive road matches, including two healthy bus trips into Wisconsin. Remaining tests include road matches against Green Bay and Northern Kentucky, who probably have the best chance to dethrone Cleveland State.

Thanks to that sobering moment against Kent State, it’s hard to imagine the Vikings flinching at the challenges ahead.

“After last season we knew we had a gap, primarily in our leadership – that was the biggest question mark. We have two seniors, both doing a good job, but you win championships with juniors and seniors,” Voss said. “We’ve been talking about it since the spring and honestly, the last three weeks or so, we’ve seen dramatic change from quite a few players. That’s why we are starting to string together a few victories.”

“It’s hard to believe I’m a senior; I love these girls and will miss them and the times we’ve had on and off the court,” Stover added. “The relationships … that’s the main reason we’ve played so well over these past few years, because of the chemistry we have. We bring that out into the court and have fun, and I’m going to miss that.”

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