Sports

Volleyball sets sights on playoffs despite All-American graduating

After spiking the last point over the net and beating conference powerhouse Bridgeport University on senior night, Queens College volleyball senior Jovana Pavlovic dropped to her knees in disbelief; the 3:2 set win was bittersweet.

Scoring the last point in her final game is one of her favorite memories, said Pavolovic, whose impressive college career — with recognition well-deserved to prove it — came to an end last November.

As hard as it can be to replace a graduating starter, QC women’s volleyball head coach Leanna Taylor, will actually enter the 2012 season without her starting middle hitter, captain and All-American from a year ago.

Pavlovic, 24, from Belgrade, Serbia, was a dominating force in East Coast Conference volleyball for two years. A graphic design major, she excelled not only on the court, but in the classroom as well; having the highest GPA on her team and receiving the QC volleyball “Student-Athlete” award in 2010.

Pavlovic’s other awards include ECC Player of the Week, ECC First Team All-Conference, ECC First Team All-Region and Queens College Women’s Volleyball Most Valuable Player. Perhaps her most prestigious acknowledgement came last May when she was honored as the female recipient of QC’s annual Silver Knight Award.

Pavlovic’s senior season ended in disappointment, however, with the team placing only one slot away from the playoffs with a 9-18 record.

Despite missing out on a postseason appearance, the second-year head coach believes the team can get there in 2012.

“I want to be and we can be in the conference tournament this year,” Taylor said.

But Pavlovic was a major loss, explained Taylor, not only because of her skill, but also, because of her passion and love of the game.

“Jovana brought passion and ownership to the court. I would constantly have to cool her emotions,” Taylor said.

When Taylor recruited for the 2012 season, she identified passion as an important characteristic to look for in any college athlete. As well as knowledge of the game, pure athleticism and ability to balance academics and athletics, passion is important because the heart to want to get better distinguishes good players from great players, Taylor said.

Taylor’s incoming players have the ability to exceed Pavolovic physically — they are bigger and believed to be better jumpers — but what Pavolovic brought to the table was one of a kind; an international student coming to America to achieve her dream, said Taylor.

“Coach Taylor probably won’t be able to find someone who will fight with the referee, in a different language, or fall on her knees after the last point like I did,” Pavlovic said. “But joking aside, I think coach won’t struggle so much to replace me. I know she can mold the new girls into great players; she knows what she is doing.”

The upcoming 2012 season brings great hope and potential for the team. With stand-out freshmen Else Buchmiller, Sacramento, Ca., Arielle DiCoco, Blue Point, N.Y. and Bianca Steele, Massepequa, N.Y., the team aims to improve upon last year.

Middle hitter, DiCoco, 18, believes that the team chemistry will have an important effect on the outcome of the conference season, which opens Sept. 18 against Molloy College.

“The teamwork is phenomenal,” DiCoco said. “Everyone cheers each other on and we constantly move forward.”

Captain Ceren Kilic, 20, Instanbul, Turkey, said that the team should at least make playoffs and can hopefully make the NCAA tournament.

“I believe in my team,” said the junior setter.

The Lady Knights were ranked fifth out of the nine conference teams in the ECC coaches’ preseason poll. As for Taylor, the 2012 season brings excitement and optimism. Believing that her new recruits are solid, and, with time, can fill the “hole” in her roster, Taylor is confident of her team’s chances in the conference.

“These girls are hungry for a conference championship,” Taylor said.

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