Niki Nych

SHARON – Penn State Shenango women’s volleyball team concluded the 2019 campaign with a strong showing, and the 2020 Lady Lions are looking to continue that trend.

Second-year Head Coach Niki Nych notched a pair of recruits in 5-foot-10 middle-blocker/outside-hitter Nalida McQueen and 5-foot back-row defender/Libero Jeanna Morgan.

McQueen is a Warren native and Warren G. Harding High alumna. There, she was a 3-time Division I Ohio Volleyball Coaches’ Association all-star. A versatile athlete, she also competed in basketball and track & field.

“I think she’ll be a huge asset offensively,” praised Nych, who noted, “We struggled a little bit last year in one area offensively – I was a little weak in the middle – so she’ll help out there. And even if I have to adjust her to either middle and outside or weak side for blocking reasons, I think she’s versatile enough that I can do that. She jumps very well, so she’ll put up a big block, so that’ll help defensively a little bit.”

Similarly, at Heartland Christian School Morgan competed in volleyball – the team ranked 17th in the Buckeye State in their enrollment classification last season – basketball, cross country, and track & field. 

Regarding Morgan, a Canfield resident, Nych assessed, “Jeanna will help out immensely. She’s a very hard-working girl. ... When I watched her she does a lot of hustling, she’s quick, she reads the ball well on the court. ... Jeanna will be a huge asset to our defense. Her great attitude and drive will spark the offense.”

Last season the local Lady Lions ended 12-13 overall and 4-8 in the PSU Athletic Conference Western Division, posting back-to-back season-ending 5-set wins.

“We started off a little rough last year at the beginning, but we ended very strong once the girls started getting acclimated to each other and figuring everything out,” Nych reflected. “They really started to get to know each other and that helped – it really became like a family atmosphere.”

A pair of outside-hitters, Katie Richards (West Middlesex), a 5-6 rising senior, and Robin Reynolds (Grove City High), a 5-8 sophomore, return. Richards recorded 162 kills, 189 serving points and 71 digs last season, while Reynolds accumulated 232.5 points, 170 kills and 80 digs.

“They both did a great job. Very strong, hitting-wise, offensively,” Nych praised, relating, “They were two girls who never really played defense in high school, but they came far defensively, did a lot of work and put time and effort in on defense to be able to play those positions last year.”

Also returning is 5-7 junior Libero Donique Marcella (Kennedy Catholic High). Nych praised, “She started reading the ball very well and she is so quick to the ball. She really works the back row – she’s just everywhere, all over the court,” and Marcella’s team-high 236 digs would dictate Nych’s contention. The Farrell resident added 82 sets.

Olivia Vogel (Brookfield High), a 5-11 sophomore middle-hitter, logged 232.5 points and 156 kills a year ago and is another versatile player, of whom Nych said, “I can move her anywhere. She can hit. She does stay in to serve, but she is now an option, also, to possibly do some back-row (defense) if I need her to stay in, do some attacking from the back row.”

Jenna Bornemiss, a 5-4 sophomore setter also returns after posting a team-best 388 assists in 2019 (plus 82 sets), and Nych noted, “It’ll be good to have a returning setter who already knows the offense and (is) able to take charge and kind’ve run that.”

Another pair of junior outside-hitters also return in 5-8 Victoria Popovitch (Kennedy Catholic High) and 5-6 Jaslyn Williams, who is a Brookfield resident.

“Victoria came in and had some injuries last year, but did a phenomenal job,” Nych praised, “so I’m looking forward to continue working with her. And Jaslyn came really far last year as a person and a player, so I think she can do some more supporting the team defensively (from the back row) for us.”

In addition to McQueen and Morgan, Nych said, “I have five more recruits that I’m gonna be signing here soon. ... Most of them are offensive (players), rather than defensive, but I’ll be so well-rounded offensively and defensively. And it’ll help with having a bench now and being able to go to someone if I need to, and even just kind’ve shakin’ things up and putting kids in different spots throughout games and confusing the other team. 

“I have a setter coming in, two more hitters coming in, and another girl who could end up being in the front row, the back row – it just kind’ve depends where she works out,” Nych later added. “I really do think this will be a huge difference for us this year.”

In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, Nych said, “I’m very anxious to get started. Obviously we didn’t have spring season workouts, (and) I don’t know when I’ll be able to start in the summer, either – maybe mid-June, maybe after, I don’t know when. But I’m extremely anxious and the girls are very anxious to start. They’re very anxious to get to know these new girls coming in, and just to start building.

Based on her prior scholastic success as West Middlesex High’s mentor, Nych knows well about postseason play and summarized,

“With the returning girls being the leaders that they are, and with all of these girls I have coming in having good attitudes ... I think it’ll be a great year. I really, really do think that we can truly make a run this year, especially with all of the offensive weapons that I have.

“ ... I do look forward to making a run this year. I think, with this recruiting class, it’ll tell a lot of where I’m gonna fit in the future,” Nych said.