Denver Volleyball 2016 Year in Review
Fall season signaled first year for Pioneers under direction of head coach Tom Hogan
Jan. 24, 2017
DENVER – With a successful 2016 season in the books, the University of Denver volleyball team looks to reload and gear up for the 2017 campaign. The Pioneers are coming off their third-straight season with at least 23 wins, their third trip to the NCAA Tournament and their third-consecutive Summit League regular season and tournament championship titles.
“We accomplished a lot this season and I’m very proud of the improvements we made and the character we showed,” said head coach Tom Hogan. “We put an emphasis on and worked hard at improving our systems, techniques, cohesiveness and team culture, and it really showed.
“Those efforts and the players’ holistic commitment to pursuing growth each and every day eventually led to one of our most successful seasons as a program.”
The Pioneers embarked on their first season under Hogan after he was named the seventh head coach in school history on December 17, 2015, following the departure of Jesse Mahoney, who took the head position at the University of Colorado.
Hogan first joined the staff in 2012 as first assistant under Mahoney and helped mold Denver into one of the premier hitting teams in the country, steering DU to a .245 offensive efficiency in his first season, and .266 in his second and third, the highest in school history. Hogan also coordinated the program’s first nationally ranked recruiting class in 2014, placing the Pioneers amongst the nation’s top 30 programs and followed up by helping Denver to its first-ever NCAA postseason appearance.
To fill out his staff for the 2016 season, Hogan turned to defensive coordinator Katelin Batten, who also started with the Crimson and Gold in 2012 after a decorated career as a libero for Colorado State. Promoted to first assistant, Batten continued to improve DU’s defenses and increased the team’s blocking efficiency.
Hogan also brought in Jesse Tupac as offensive coordinator, a coach with experience at the national team level and at collegiate powerhouses. Eduardo Fiallos returned as the Director of Volleyball Operations, while Kristen Hahn, a USA National Team member and former NCAA All-American for Iowa State, joined the crew as volunteer assistant with an emphasis in the serve-receive phase, her specialty from her collegiate playing days.
Despite having a coaching change at the top, the Pioneers were still tabbed as the team to beat in the Summit League, garnering eight first-place votes in the preseason poll with junior Kayla Principato and senior Ruth Okoye selected as Players to Watch.
SEASON OF FIRSTS
Even after a rollercoaster start to the season with a 4-4 record after eight matches, Denver demonstrated their resiliency with a stunning four-set victory over  Loyola Marymount on Sept. 2 for DU’s first win over a ranked opponent in nearly five years.
The Pioneers finished the pre-league schedule with an 8-4 record and five different players named to All-Tournament teams, including Okoye, Principato, seniors Nola Basey and Monique Domme, and sophomore Emma Willis.
Denver came out firing at the start of the league schedule, taking a four-set victory over Omaha in a rematch from the 2015 Summit League Championship, but hit its first roadblock of the schedule as Fort Wayne took a straight-set win in the second league match. The Pioneers quickly returned to form with three-straight wins against IUPUI, South Dakota State and Western Illinois, dropping only one set during the run.
In a thrilling final week of Summit League play, Denver dropped the rematch against USD to enter into a virtual tie for first place, but defeated NDSU on the road on the final day of the league season to claim its third-straight regular season championship, a feat accomplished by only five other teams in Summit League history.
With the stage set, the Pioneers went into the Summit League Tournament as the top seed after a 13-3 mark in league play, hosting the championships at Hamilton Gymnasium for the second year in a row. The first bout featured a match between Denver and Oral Roberts as DU stood fast and overcame the Golden Eagles in three sets, advancing to the Summit League Championship in a bout against two-seeded South Dakota.
The Pioneers hit their stride in the first two sets against the Coyotes, winning 25-12 and 25-14, but USD responded with a win in set three. Denver responded with a 25-18 decision in the fourth set over the Yotes, taking a third Summit League Tournament title in a row and booking a third trip to the NCAA Tournament.
DU drew  Stanford in the opening round of the 2016 NCAA Tournament and visited Palo Alto for the Dec. 2 match. Denver showed incredible promise against Stanford in a hard-fought contest, but ultimately fell to the Cardinal who would go on to win the NCAA championship. Denver finished the year at 23-9 and made their mark as a team to watch in the future.
MILE MARKERS & HONORS
DU players reached seven career milestones during the course of the season, led by Basey recording her 1,000th career kill on Nov. 4 against Oral Roberts. Joining her in the same category was senior Moni Corrujedo, recording her 1,000th kill on Aug. 27 against San Diego State.
The setter tandem of Domme and junior Piyusha Boteju both passed 1,000 career assists as Domme accomplished the feat on Sept. 17 against Georgetown and Boteju followed suit on Oct. 14 against North Dakota State.
Two back row players overcame the 1,000 career digs plateau in the season as well, with Basey passing the mark on Nov. 20 against South Dakota in the Summit League Championship, while junior Cassidy Rooke beat her to the punch on Sept. 24 against Omaha.
Meanwhile, Okoye reached 300 career blocks on Oct. 14 against North Dakota State, making her the seventh Pioneer to reach a career mark on the season.
Five members took home postseason awards for Denver, as Basey, Okoye and Principato were named to the All-Summit League team while Domme and Willis made it on the All-Summit League Honorable Mention team.
Additionally, Basey and Okoye both took a spot on the Summit League All-Tournament team with Okoye named Summit League Tournament MVP, and Rooke rounded out the trio with her first All-Tournament Team nod.
Lastly, Basey was named to the Summit League All-Academic Team after the season, the fourth year in a row a member of the Crimson and Gold garnered the academic award.
Hogan set out on a mission to keep Denver in the national conversation and it was accomplished with DU’s third trip to the NCAA Tournament and impressive showing against eventual champion Stanford. The Pioneers finished with a .264 hitting efficiency, the 23rd-best mark in the nation, while holding opponents to a .171 mark, 35th-best in the NCAA.
DU also finished ranked 52nd in the nation with 2.44 blocks per set, and 69th in aces per set with 1.41. If the efficiencies weren’t enough, Denver also posted its best serve-receive in school history with a .955 reception percentage on 2,113 attempts.
As of January 2017, four incoming freshman are signed on to fill the ranks next season: Lydia Bartalo, Ellie Anderson, Jaden Sandoval and Christina Boe. All bring extensive experience from the national level to Hamilton Gymnasium and will look to make an immediate impact on the court.
The Pioneers have plenty to look forward to during the next fall season as more signings will be announced in the spring of 2017.
“We will have a lot of new and exciting challenges in the 2017 season and the opportunity to reset and grow under the leadership of our seniors,” Hogan said. “We expect to welcome eight hard working and talented new student-athletes to our roster, so we will focus on incorporating and educating while we continue to improve as a program. I’m excited to see what we are capable of achieving this upcoming season.
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