UAlbany Volleyball’s Theme for 2018: Redemption
The overarching theme of the 2018 University at Albany women’s volleyball team is redemption. After winning the America East regular season title with an impressive 11-1 conference record last season, the Great Danes failed to finish the job, falling to their rival Stony Brook in straight sets in the conference tournament semifinals.
The loss extended UAlbany’s championship drought, who have now failed to hoist up the trophy since 2011.
Fortunately for the Great Danes, 11th-year head coach MJ Engstrom and her team, which returns 11 players from last season, has a chance to complete unfinished business in 2018.
Engstrom is welcoming back nearly all of last year’s roster, losing just two seniors to graduation (Nina Holmes (defensive specialist) and Taylor Robinson (middle blocker). With that said, the Danes are going to be an exciting watch in 2018. Among the many familiar faces returning in 2018 is senior superstar Nicole Otero, who is a two-time AE defensive specialist of the year and UAlbany’s fourth all-time leader in digs with 1,536 and counting.
Through eight matches, Otero, the libero, has already sacrificed her body to make 151 digs, equivalent to 4.71 per set. A year ago, she lit up the court with unflappable energy, making 4.82 digs per set while leading the Danes to an AE regular season title.
Not only is UAlbany sound on the back line, but they have what could arguably be the best middle-blocker in the conference as well. At 6 feet, 2 inches tall, Akuabata Okenwa is a talented junior who is coming off of a successful sophomore campaign, earning first-team all-conference at outside hitter and finishing the season at third on the AE leaderboards with 3.3 kills per set. As a freshman, she earned a spot on the AE all-rookie team.
The Great Danes also welcome eight freshmen. Several have already made their way into the rotation, including outside hitter Grace Cozad and defensive specialists, Charlotte Macken and Anna Chalupa.
Cozad has excelled on the front lines thus far, providing the Danes with two kills per set which is second on the team behind Okenwa. The emergence of Macken, a Clifton Park native, has also been a pleasant surprise for coach Engstrom. Macken is second on the team in digs per set with 2.56. Chalupa has rounded out an impressive back line and an even more impressive freshman class with 1.75 digs per set.
The Great Danes are athletic, well-coached, and they have strong leadership. However, the most dangerous teams are those who play for redemption, making this year’s team possibly the best in recent time.
The team will host their first home match against Capital Region rival Siena College on Sept. 23 at 2 P.M.