By Ryan Miller
The College of Staten Island men’s volleyball team struggled in their inaugural campaign in 2015, but last season’s 6-23 record is a distant memory for the Dolphins who are confident of their abilities ahead of their sophomore season.
Despite the departures of setter Philip Szumanksi and last season’s kills leader Brian Sheydvasser, the Dolphins return a strong core of players including four starters from 2015’s squad.
“Although we’re disappointed in the way we played last season it was a good learning experience for us,” said the Dolphins’ co-captain Justin Edwardsen. “This being our second time around now we know what to expect playing in the CUNYAC, we have a lot of guys coming back and we know we can improve our record.”
Edwardsen and co-captain Danil Kukovitskiy highlight the roster of returnees for head coach Juan Lopez’s side that also sees starters Song Shin Low and Dewayne Stewart back.
The Dolphins will lean heavily on Edwardsen and Kukovitskiy to not only control play at the net, but provide the firepower offensively.
Edwardsen (143 kills in 2015) looks likely to slide over to the outside hitter position in order to offset the departure of Sheydvasser while Kukovitskiy (52 kills in 2015) should line up through the middle once again.
“We know as captains the best way to lead is by example,” said Kukovitskiy. “While Justin [Edwardsen] and I know we’ll be getting a lot of sets in our direction this season, it’ll take more than just us improving our kills totals to be successful. Volleyball is a team sport and it takes all six guys on the court to win.”
In charge of orchestrating the offense in 2016 is Brandon Lei, who will be taking over the team’s setter duties from Szumanski. Lei will have to improve upon his 2.28 assists per set average from last year if the Dolphins hope to establish a consistent attack.
Though CSI (5-11 CUNYAC) were new to the City University of New York Athletic Conference in 2015, the Dolphins still managed to avoid the bottom of the table, finishing with better records than both Brooklyn College (1-15) and Medgar Evers (1-15).
Perennial powerhouses Hunter and Baruch figure to top the table again in 2016, but the Dolphins see a mid-standings finish as an attainable goal.
“It’s only our second year, but that doesn’t mean we don’t have players capable of competing with even the best teams in the division,” said Kukovitskiy. “We still have a lot of work to do between now and the beginning of the season, but we’re getting better each and every day.”
Edwardsen and Kukovitskiy helped the team maintain their fitness in the offseason with captain’s practices, but the season is back in full swing with daily training sessions since the last week in November.
CSI kicks off regular season play on February 6th in a double match against CCNY and Baruch, but the Dolphins have a series of scrimmages and plenty of practices planned for after the holiday break.
“The season is still over a month away, but if we want to be amongst the best teams in the league, the hard work has to start now,” said Edwardsen. “We know teams are probably circling their calendars for an easy win against us, but we’re out to prove we can play with anyone.”