OGDEN — For what has been called a “rebuilding year,” Weber State Volleyball may have shown its program health the most in the 2022 season, its eighth season under head coach Jeremiah Larsen.
The loss of three of the program’s all-time greats to graduation, including league MVP and All-American Rylin Adams, created a vacuum of experience and achievement. But a group of youngsters, led by senior versus Emma Mangum and junior outside hitter Dani Richins, still earned a tied second place finish in Big Sky’s regular season, including a chance to bid for first place in the final three games to play.
But more is needed, Larsen says, to return to the highs now expected at Weber State.
In their 2022 conference tournament opener Wednesday night, the Wildcats lost in five sets to No. 6 Montana State (25-21, 20-25, 25-20, 13-25, 15-13), even in front of a rowdy home crowd with a few Hunks of MSU travel faithful.
“Game five, they smoothed themselves out and we just didn’t make a concerted effort to make them uncomfortable. They were only uncomfortable when they were uncomfortable,” Larsen said. “It just shows a bit of the immaturity of our volleyball team.”
That ended Weber State’s streak of three straight appearances in the conference tournament’s championship game. The Wildcats finish the season 17-11 overall after winning 11-5 in Big Sky’s regular season.
“If this is a rebuild year, we’ll take it. But this is just a nice rebuilding year if we respond and do better next season. If not, we just float in space and get the same result over and over again,” Larsen said. “So it’s a nice year for a team that lost some really good volleyball players, but at the same time, the potential in this volleyball team is much greater than what we’ve been able to achieve this season.”
The Weber State roster is talented enough to contend for championships but needs to learn how to fight, he said.
“I just don’t think we’re as strong as we have been in the past,” said Larsen. “When life is good for us, life is good, but when we get kicked in the teeth a little bit, we don’t respond very well, we get emotional, we don’t have courage, we don’t have resilience … we’ve got to start.” to trust the process that the coaching staff puts in place and then make it work so that it doesn’t happen to us again next season.”
Mangum and opposite Riley Weinert are the seniors leaving the program, with Mangum being the only starter. Because of that, Weber State has time to let Wednesday’s experience smolder and finally ignite the competitive fire that Larsen said has been missing this season.
“They have to seize this moment right here because they’re pissed about it. They want to do a lot of things and they know they’re quite skilled and talented,” said Larsen. “So I challenged them and asked if they wanted to have that experience again or make sure they didn’t. How you react now and go into spring will determine everything. We have to be tougher.”
Richins, a former league MVP herself, is returning for her senior campaign next season after becoming one of the few players to spend some time outside of her preferred position, so to speak, to make the plays work. And freshman middle blockers Brielle Rueckert (.376) and Saane Katoa (.340) were 1-2 in the Big Sky in batting average and 4-5 in blocks.
WSU’s two undersigned this fall are both underdogs to add depth and firepower to this position: Nana Asiata of Herriman and Ali Wiest of Mesa, Arizona.
Asiata is a 5ft 10 player known for being a strong athlete, great jumper and competitor. Wiest is a 6-foot hitter who was noted for her love of the game and competition.
“I like what we have. I think we have the talent to fight for a championship. What separates this team from the teams of previous years is their courage, their struggle, their competitiveness and we’re just not there yet,” said Larsen. “So we go to work and try to get tougher and see what happens.”