The NCAA has passed legislation adding the National Invitational Volleyball Championship as a permanent season-ending event for volleyball – Triple Crown Sports brought the event back to life in 2017 and has seen the programs from Ole Miss, Iowa State, Georgia Tech and UNLV claim an NIVC title. The 2022 event will launch with selection night on Nov. 27, with the championship match slated for Dec. 12 or 13.
By Kyle Koso
Where others might see disconnect and disarray, Emily Mansur sees pieces in position and a story yet to be told.
The head coach for the Hofstra volleyball team has a nine-year history of bringing in multiple players from other countries to campus in Hempstead, NY., as the Brazilian native has connections there and elsewhere that have directed a lot of talent to the program. However, the range of countries contributing players means a swirl of cultures, languages and personalities must be directed to common ground – it’s tough to build a team on polite smiles.
Mansur’s roster in 2022 had unwieldly variety and an unhappy start, going 3-8 in pre-conference action, but the Pride has clearly solved the mystery, going 10-0 in the Colonial Athletic Association and sitting atop the standings with Towson (9-1, 19-1 overall) finally dropping a match last weekend. The recent success resonates all over the planet, as the following countries/territories are suiting up for Hofstra (take a breath) – Brazil, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Italy, Puerto Rico, Spain and Turkey, along with five Americans.
“It's a lot of fun, and a big, big challenge. We tell the players, when we start the season we’ll be two steps behind everyone else because of where players come from and that we need to teach the Hofstra Way,” Mansur said. “It is beautiful when you do get everyone speaking the same (volleyball) language. It’s a process, something we’ve been doing for the past nine years … we know there will be some tough moments. They figure out how to learn and respect each other, and that’s a lot of fun to see. We as coaches learn from each system we recruit from; it makes us better. All these different individuals become a part of Hofstra.”
It all looked and felt like an uphill journey when the current season began, with a real mood-tester hitting on Sept. 9-10 when the Pride lost in four sets to Syracuse and then in straight sets to Army and Yale. And it’s not like there were multiple seniors already on board, ready to deliver wisdom and insight to calm spirits, as the two seniors who see steady playing time still have two years of eligibility to come.
“That’s not a great situation, going 0-3 right before conference. We kept reminding the team, 65 percent of the lineup was injured, and we had ley players not able to play what they were recruited to do,” Mansur said. “That made a big difference, and it gave us hope that once we got healthy, things would change. For a lot of the off-season, a huge (portion) of our team just couldn’t play. The (struggles) may have helped us, given us some motivation, and we knew we’d become a better team.”
The Hofstra coaching staff top-to-bottom has international experience. Years ago, the personal connections they evolved helped attract foreign players, while today is more noted for internet-based services that speed the process. In the end, players report having a great run with the Pride, and foreign clubs and academies are willing to send in the next crew.
Leading the way in kills is senior Zyare Abdul-Rahim (215), with junior Yagmur Cinel next at 186 and two freshmen, Izadore Stedile and Clara Ball, right there with 146 and 144 kills, respectively. Sophomore setter Beatriz Alves was the most recent CAA offensive player of the week, and she has totaled 755 assists.
“We are super young, but I think players feel they need to step it up and grow, being young is no excuse,” Mansur said. “And a little bit that with players from different countries, many of them are used to playing alongside older teammates and used to taking on a bigger role. Once they get here and figure out, how does NCAA volleyball work, how does my schedule work, it becomes easier to focus on volleyball. At the beginning, everything is super overwhelming. When parts of their life in American become regular, we see them able to focus on volleyball, and we see the results.”
The Pride has been to the NCAA tournament twice under Mansur’s direction, and it’s likely that Towson will be one of the primary obstacles as Hofstra looks to make it happen in 2020. Those teams square off Nov. 12-13 to close the CAA regular season, but the Pride will be on high alert this weekend to be sure, hosting a Delaware team that started 6-0 in CAA play before getting swept by Towson (which finally lost, at Elon, on Oct. 15).
“I won’t lie, I was hoping they didn’t lose yet – it’s hard to have a perfect season, and them losing now isn’t really that big or helpful for us,” Mansur added. “We will trust in our team, and Towson has all our respect, that is a great team and they do a phenomenal job. But if we don’t believe in our ability to find a way to beat them in the end, then they deserve it. We may have a chance at the regular season (title), but as a mid-major what really matters is the (CAA) tournament.
“We have lots of minor concerns, no question, but to pick on one, it’s the ability to be patient. When you are young, you want to produce the big kill, but the American game is much more about ball control. In Europe, it’s all about attacking, but here it’s more the tips and rolls, and you’ve got to be patient to play points that go longer. We are trying to develop that. Towson has great attackers, but they are really good at keeping the ball in play, and if we don’t play right that will be a problem.”