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  • VB : Syracuse improves in 2nd half of season under Morrisroe, has pieces in place for future

    first_imgWith the season in the balance, Kelly Morrisroe kept her speech before the fourth set short. Notre Dame rallied to take the third set of Syracuse’s last home match — one the Orange needed to win to make the Big East tournament — but the interim head coach didn’t need to highlight each error.‘Stay focused, limit distractions and close this team out,’ Morrisroe said to her team.When the Orange did as Morrisroe instructed — minimized on-court errors and played to the strengths of its strong blocking game — it played like a team deserving of that tournament berth. SU beat Notre Dame and moved on to the conference tournament, where it fell in the quarterfinals in a rematch with the Fighting Irish to end its season. It was an inconsistent year for Syracuse (19-12, 8-6 Big East), but the team still improved upon last year’s campaign, in which the Orange finished with a 5-9 in-conference record.Morrisroe expected those up and downs. Her team was composed of nine freshmen players.And the team had to deal with the midseason dismissal of Jing Pu in the middle of his 16th year as head coach.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textSo even though SU lost that opening postseason match in a second game against Notre Dame, Morrisroe said the fact that the Orange was in a position to play postseason volleyball was an impressive feat.‘Our team had been against it with the coaching change, and obviously, going to the tournament was a huge accomplishment,’ Morrisroe said. ‘But even with that out of the way, this team proved a lot.’After two blowout losses to Big East favorites Louisville and Cincinnati in early November, SU won the two matches it needed to win against DePaul and the Irish at home to go to the postseason. The Orange hadn’t beaten Notre Dame since 1981.All-Big East Second Team outside hitter Noemie Lefebvre said that winning critical games and going to the postseason after such an up-and-down season benefits Syracuse’s young players going forward.‘You know you’ve already achieved that goal,’ Lefebvre said. ‘So next year’s goal is to go back (to the Big East tournament) again.’Though SU clinched a postseason berth behind the play of its freshmen, it almost choked away a chance at the Big East tournament because of its inexperience. On several heartbreaking occasions, the Orange lost games against weaker competition. These losses often came in five sets and on the heels of a freshman mistake.At home against South Florida on Sept. 23, freshman outside hitter Andrea Fisher couldn’t match up with Bulls outside hitter Valerie El Houssine. After SU jumped out to a two-set lead, El Houssine recorded 10 kills in the third set that keyed a USF comeback.Additionally, opposing hitters targeted freshman outside hitter Ying Shen in an upset loss against Georgetown on Oct. 9. Shen hit three Georgetown spikes out of bounds in the fourth and fifth sets, and in the fifth and deciding set, she had a critical service error that gave the Hoyas a late lead.When Pu was fired Oct. 18, it wasn’t a stretch to assume the Orange would continue its tailspin down the Big East standings. But behind Morrisroe, SU’s freshmen players eventually rounded out a team that made a run to the postseason. Syracuse’s solid finish was led by eventual All-Big East First Team middle blocker Sam Hinz and All-Big East Second Team selections Lefebvre and Lindsay McCabe.In that clinching Notre Dame match, freshman setter Emily Betteridge had a career-high 53 assists. Fisher tallied 14 kills and freshman outside hitter Nicolette Serratore had three blocks.Hinz said the freshman class knows how to overcome adversity after one season — an invaluable trait going forward.‘That’s been a theme with our team all season,’ Hinz said. ‘I think the fact that the freshmen got to witness us battle against good teams helps a lot.’One of those battles came in that crucial final home match against the Fighting Irish.And in the pressure situations, SU did as Morrisroe instructed. The Orange stayed focused, limited distractions and closed them out. Even with the adversity of Pu’s dismissal and later two teams in its way to a postseason berth, Syracuse made its way to Milwaukee, Wis., for the Big East tournament.And with the freshmen now having a year under their belts against Division I competition, Serratore, one of those youngsters, said she can’t wait to retake the court next year.‘They know that the more I play, the better I can be,’ Serratore said. ‘I think that holds true for all of us.’[email protected]  Comments Published on November 29, 2011 at 12:00 pm Contact Nick: [email protected] | @nicktoneytweetscenter_img Facebook Twitter Google+last_img read more