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VOLLEYBALL YSU gives better account

By Brian Richesson

Wednesday, October 10, 2001

Youngstown State played much better than its last match at Penn State.
STATE COLLEGE, Pa. -- The Youngstown State volleyball team's match Tuesday at nationally-ranked Penn State wasn't a new experience for everyone.
Seniors Rebecca Sylak, Melissa Lyczkowski and Kristen Meech played at Rec Hall as freshmen in 1998 when the Penguins lost in three games.
"I do remember that match. I had one block and one kill, and I was really excited," laughed Sylak Tuesday after the Penguins' 30-23, 30-17, 30-20 loss to the Nittany Lions.
"You're looking at a Big Ten team and thinking, 'These people, you see on ESPN; you see them in Sports Illustrated, and you're playing them.' You're thinking, 'What's little old me and my team going to do?' "
Gone: Three years later, after a 15-5, 15-6, 15-0 loss in the first meeting, that mentality is gone.
"They remembered [in '98], coming in here in such a dominating, intimidating type of atmosphere," Youngstown State coach Joe Conroy said. "Now, we warmed up well, we hit balls hard.
"When we first came here, we struggled getting them over the net," Conroy said. "Now it's like, 'We can do this.' "
The reason is simple. In his 10 years as coach, Conroy has continued to add talent to the Penguins' program.
"We have faster, bigger players than in '98," he said. "In '98, we had maybe one player that was our go-to player. Now, we have three or four that we can really depend on to get balls through."
Stepping stone: After Tuesday's defeat, there were no sad faces, only the desire to improve by using a match against a Big Ten program as a stepping stone for the future -- even if the Penguins (8-6) failed to win a game.
"We came in with the attitude that we have no pressure, and just focus on making our team better and try to have fun," sophomore Laura Svette said.
"We had a joking attitude," she said. "We just wanted to keep positive."
That was evident in the first game when, at one point, Youngstown State cut its deficit to 24-22 on one of Svette's six kills.
"It's a confidence boost when you play Penn State and you can pass balls, you can block balls, you can kill balls," said Sylak, a Mineral Ridge High graduate who led the Penguins with 10 kills.
Too much: Penn State (11-3), however, proved to be too much for the Penguins, showing why it has a 101-8 record in the last three seasons.
"We could have put our tails between our legs and really folded," Conroy said. "Instead, we came out and fought hard against the 11th-rated team in the country."
Youngstown State's match Tuesday was the first of four straight on the road. The Penguins travel to Chicago this weekend to face Horizon League opponents Loyola and Illinois-Chicago before a non-conference match Oct. 16 at Pittsburgh.
"We started off strong in the tournaments in the beginning," Meech said, "but [the Horizon League] is such a tough conference. We're coming out every game and getting challenged. I don't think we're used to playing that caliber of volleyball every single match."
Explanation: That helps explain the Penguins' 1-4 record as a first-year member of the Horizon League, after moving from the Mid-Continent Conference.
"In the Horizon, all the athletes are top level," Conroy said, "whereas in the Mid-Con, teams have maybe one or two [good] athletes per team."
The Penguins can only hope their match Tuesday against one of the country's best will provide a needed lift.
"We have to stay believers," Conroy said. "We have to step forward and use this as a great learning tool for the rest of the season."