The Lehigh volleyball team will lean on senior outside hitter Katarina Kaburov, junior libero Kyleigh Brown and junior outside hitter Megan Schulte to lead the team through five-set battles and other tough matches this season.
Coach Alexa Keckler said these five-set battles are the best tests of her team’s confidence and conditioning.
“It’s a grueling two and a half hours of play,” Keckler said. “The fact that they’re pushing through and succeeding in these matches is providing the confidence we need heading into Patriot League play.”
The Mountain Hawks have already claimed more victories in five-set matches this season than all of last season. In 2022, Lehigh finished 3-4 in matches that went five sets.
The volleyball team was also the only varsity sport at Lehigh to not graduate any seniors last year.
With no loss of players, the only change to the roster this year was the addition of six first-years. Keckler said the group of first-years have given “renewed energy” to the team.
“When you have no losses and no additions (to the team), it can get a little stagnant, complacent,” Keckler said. “Then we bring in six new (first-years), and now there’s a new energy.”
Keckler also reinstated Schulte, Brown, and senior outside hitter Lylah Washington as captains for their second year in a row.
Schulte and Brown said the first-years have wasted no time in making their presence known on the court.
“(The first-years) have brought a new level of competitiveness to the gym,” Schulte said. “They’re always ready to prove themselves…it makes everyone have to compete for their position.”
Right side hitter Ufuoma Omene leads first-years in kills, earning 16 kills in her first collegiate appearance. She is averaging seven and a half kills and two block assists a game throughout the first six games of the season.
Omene’s performances earned her a spot in the starting lineup for Lehigh’s game against Temple in the finals of the Hilton Philadelphia at Penn’s Landing Cherry & White Challenge tournament on Aug. 27.
“When I found out I was starting I thought, ‘Oh my God,’” Omene said. “But then I stepped on the court, and I realized I’m not playing for myself, I’m playing for my team.”
Schulte said she’s noticed differences in team culture on and off the court.
“We have established cheers now, and everybody’s engaged and loud from the sideline,” Schulte said. “We’re super excited to bring that energy with us into Grace Hall this week.”
The Mountain Hawks’ first home tournament, the Steel Classic Tournament, was on Sept. 4 against Virginia Tech. This was Lehigh’s second time playing the Hokies in two years, after losing in five sets to them in August 2021.
All the remaining preseason games for Lehigh were at home, giving the Mountain Hawks the home-court advantage going into Patriot League play.
They finished 4-12 in Patriot League play last season— finishing eighth in the league and missing the playoffs for the second year in a row. This year, the Patriot League preseason ranking had the Mountain Hawks only one spot higher at seventh place.
The only players on Lehigh’s roster who have been to the Patriot League playoffs are the three seniors who went during the 2020-2021 season as first-years.
As an upperclassman and second-time captain, Schulte said she realizes the other upperclassmen on the team won’t have many more opportunities at a Patriot League title.
“If I want to make it happen, it’s gotta be now,” Schulte said. “Just because it’s a good preseason doesn’t mean we can let up. We have to keep working, stay humble and stay hungry.”