With the 2023 season underway, the NIVC looks at some of the programs off to a notable start as we track the depth and competitive excellence found throughout D-I volleyball.
by Kyle Koso
One week into September, the Coastal Carolina volleyball team had just secured a three-game sweep of Virginia – while it marked just the fourth victory of the season, the Chanticleers could take comfort in toppling a Power 5 squad and allow themselves to think things the roster had enough electricity to drive a good run.
However, the 2023 campaign was about to get an all-time jolt of adversity.
Head coach Jozsef Forman announced he would be stepping down after 11 years at CCU, as health concerns within his family in his native Hungary were profound enough to require an immediate exit. In the scramble that followed, the athletic department turned to Steve Loeswick, head coach of the school’s outstanding beach volleyball program, and asked him to grab the stick and try to pilot the indoor team’s fortunes.
With a voice of calm and a competitive instinct that refused to let CCU take steps backward, Loeswick has managed the most successful act of improvisation since Robin Williams worked the LA comedy clubs. The Chanticleers (13-7) have won all eight of their matches in the Sun Belt Conference and look to add to their heroics in taking on James Madison (15-4, 8-0 Sun Belt, No. 18 in national RPI) at home this Friday and Saturday.
As the season threatened to tip out of control, CCU has tapped into something special.
“It wasn’t an easy decision, and some things had to fall into place to make it work. The administration has been very supportive of my beach program, and they want that group of student-athletes to have the chance to be successful,” said Loeswick, who coached beach and indoor at North Florida before coming to Conway, SC, in 2018. “The (CCU indoor) team had a lot of new kids in the program along with two new assistants – a lot of new pieces and then uncertainly. It was hard on them, and people came here because of (Forman), the coach and person that he is.
“Sure, the future is uncertain and I don’t think we’ve solved all of those problems, but we’re making sure we’re taking care of them, keeping them healthy in mind and body. When they came to me, I went to the beach team first and talked to them; I’ve got a great assistant there and the team is very mature and experienced … the culture of that team is where it needs to be. I can miss a couple practices, and we have the leadership to keep things moving forward in a productive way.”
The indoor team has done its part in keeping Loeswick supported by flexing depth and tenacity. As part of Forman’s recruiting reach, there’s a strong international presence as players hail from Canada, Czech Republic, Luxembourg, Poland and Turkey – sprinkle in multiple East Coast natives and a couple more from further West, one wonders how the roster remained intact enough to pound out the wins.
“I don’t want to say surprised … Josef’s always brought in talented players, and with the international players … they’re going through the same thing at the same time,” Loeswick said. “They’ve become more dependent on each other, and it’s forced them to build deeper relationships within the team. You do that, hold each other accountable, and can move forward as a group. We have talented players, freshmen are doing a great job … we’re excited to be where we’re at with the wins, but the goal is to get better, learn the game, spend time on our volleyball IQ. We’ll just go on and compete, and look out for the person next to us.”
At the heart of the machine is senior Jasmine Rivest and freshman Jalyn Stout. Rivest (who competed with the Canadian national program over the summer) leads the team in kills at 299 as well as aces (31), and sits third in digs. Stout is another multi-category force with 211 kills, 257 assists and 183 digs.
“Jalyn, we are asking her to do a lot. At first, it was just the right side, then part of the 6-2 (as a setter), and she’s got a whip of an arm,” Loeswick said. “It’s nice to have that on the right side, and we also have Agata (Lesiak, 138 kills), and that’s been very helpful. Jasmine wants to swing, wants to be set, wants to bang balls. We’re trying to get her to go off-speed occasionally, but she’s doesn’t like that much and continues to be aggressive. Not much fear there, which is good.”
Junior setter Cagla Bengi leads in assists with 540, and freshman libero Sydney Lewis paces CCU with 267 digs. Junior Lauren Malone has come through with 132 kills, with Coastal Carolina typically causing a lot of trouble with its service game. Loeswick says his team reaches its ceiling when the opposition is out of system and the CCU mix of terminal hitters, right, middle and left, can go to work.
There could be temptation to use the upcoming matches against James Madison as a measuring tool, but the Chanticleers have already measured up in meaningful fashion when you consider the dramatic events from six weeks ago. Two more victories would surely feel great, but Coastal Carolina has basically mastered keeping its eye on the bigger picture.
“We’re approaching it just like last week against Old Dominion or the week before against Georgia Southern,” added Loeswick, whose team broke into the Top 100 in national RPI this week. “We’ll push the kids to get better individually and we’ll prepare with film, make some small adjustments, but it’s about us getting better and being a tough out for whoever has to play us.
“We’re in a good position, but not one where I expect to get an at-large (NCAA bid) if we don’t win the conference tournament. We’ll get a lot of information from this weekend, but it’s not do or die. A great weekend is awesome and will build our confidence. We’ve got three weekends to come to get better and prepare for the Sun Belt tournament. Three of the next four matches, we play the last three conference champions … it’s the meat and potatoes of the conference, but we’ve put ourselves in position to potentially get a good seed in the tournament.”