Duquesne volleyball team climbs ladder of success
As one of the nation's top 100 women's volleyball recruits during her senior year at Walsh Jesuit (Ohio) High School, Allison Foschia could have chosen any number of big-time universities at which to ply her skills.
But instead of heading to the Big Ten or the SEC, Foschia opted for a budding Duquesne program where she felt she could have a greater impact.
Under coach Steve Opperman, the Dukes had been on a slow-but-steady climb. Now, in Foschia's senior year, the Dukes appear closer than ever to reaching the top of the Atlantic 10.
In the past three years, Duquesne has piled up 64 wins and been to the conference semifinals twice. Opperman's colleagues have noticed. The Dukes were picked to finish No. 2 in the A-10 preseason poll — the highest preseason ranking in program history — behind Dayton, winner of the last four regular-season and tournament titles.
“The talent is there as long as I don't mess it up,” Opperman said. “Overall, it could be our best team ever.”
For years, Dayton and Xavier jockeyed for the 1-2 spots in the conference, and both were obstacles the Dukes could not navigate. As proof of Duquesne's growth, it knocked off Xavier, now a member of the new Big East, 3-2, earlier this month. It was the Dukes' first win over Xavier in 10 years.
“Definitely the program has come leaps and bounds from when I started to where I am right now,” said Foschia, a second-team all-A-10 selection last year who is among the Dukes' career leaders in kills and digs. “I'm very proud of how far it's come.”
Opperman got his coaching start as an assistant at, of all places, Dayton in 1989. He said that at that time, the Flyers' program was nowhere near the level it is now. But the coaching staff landed a couple of talented players from China who helped turn the team into a winner. The success snowballed, and Dayton is the best-funded women's volleyball program in the conference, Opperman said.
“And they continue to put money into the program because it's successful,” he added.
Opperman, in his 16th year at Duquesne following seven years as coach at Wright State, is hoping this run of success will take the Dukes in a similar direction. Luring a player of Foschia's caliber was a coup.
She was the linchpin, and other top-flight players followed. Among them are junior Arielle Love, a first-team all-conference selection last year, and 2012 all-rookie honorees Mary Henry and Taylor Lockett.
“We always think we get good players,” said Opperman, “but we've gotten better players over the last few years.”
Of course, platitudes and preseason rankings mean little if the results don't show on the court. The players understand the only way to push the program over the top is to knock off Dayton.
Duquesne opens Atlantic 10 play Sept. 27 at Palumbo Center against St. Louis. The showdown with Dayton looms one month later, Oct. 26, also at Palumbo Center.
Foschia is out while she nurses a strained abdominal muscle, but she's confident she'll be ready by the time conference matches begin.
She's waited three years for this moment, and she aims to make the most of it.
“If we stick to the basics and play clean volleyball, we're going to have a good shot at doing what we want to do,” Foschia said. “I'm a senior now. This is my last shot, and I'm going for first.
“Our goal is to be the best now. There's no turning back.”
Chuck Curti is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.