All Sports Schedule

Minium: ODU Women's Volleyball, Field Hockey Teams Open at Home Friday with High Hopes

Sarah Heck

By Harry Minium

One of Old Dominion's most storied women's athletic programs, and the University's newest women's sport, both have something in common as they kick off their seasons Friday with home matches.

ODU's field hockey team began play in 1974 and has won nine of the University's ten Division I NCAA championships and just missed the NCAA tournament in the fall of 2019 and last spring.

The volleyball program played its first season last spring.

Both return all of their starters and both brought in some great recruits and should have better teams.

But because of the NCAA's decision to grant an extra year of eligibility to all athletes who competed in 2020-21, many of their opponents may be just as improved.

The field hockey team, ranked 18th nationally, takes on No. 17 Delaware at 11 a.m. Friday at the L.R. Hill Sports Complex.

Meanwhile, the Monarch volleyball team hosts the Old Dominion Invitational, a two-day round-robin tournament Friday and Saturday. On Friday, the Monarchs take on Hampton at 1 p.m. and West Virginia at 7 p.m.

The volleyball team concludes the weekend with a 4 p.m. game Saturday against Loyola of Maryland and the field hockey team hosts American University Sunday at noon.

Their openers coincide with the opening of residential halls for students and admission is free for students.

A look at both programs:


Coach Fred Chao and the first team in ODU history had by every measure a spectacular debut. The Monarchs were 7-11 and had memorable victories over George Mason in their opener, and later in the season, rallied to win the last two sets against Middle Tennessee and UNC-Wilmington.

But Chao called it more of a "soft opening" than a true debut. COVID postponed the season from the fall until the spring. And it not only limited the number of games the Monarchs were able to play, but also the crowds at the new, ODU Volleyball Center.

Although fans must wear masks, there is no limit to how many may sit in the venue's nearly 900 seats. With a low ceiling and block walls, sound reverberates at ODU home games, and officials expect some home games will draw a full house.

"It will be like a whole new rollout compared to last spring," Chao said. "Maybe we will consider this season a full opening.

"To be able to have this place open for full capacity is something we can't wait to happen.

"I remember last year when we had less than 200 people how loud it was. To be able to have more than 800, it will be a whole other vibe. I think it's something everyone here had planned on."

ODU returns everyone from last season, and has two key newcomers: Myah Conway, a 6-foot-1 freshman from Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, and Kira Smith, a 5-10, outside hitter from San Diego. Smith is a former high school teammate of ODU's Teresa Atilano.

Both freshmen are likely to start Friday against Hampton. It is not unusual in a program that's just getting off the ground for new recruits to challenge returnees for playing time.

Freshman LeeAnne Lowery, a 6-4 middle blocker from Verona, New York, has also impressed.

"Myah grew a couple of inches since we last saw her pre-Covid," Chao said. "That was a nice surprise when she showed up on campus."

Alessia Sgherza, a graduate student from Masa, Italy, led ODU with 220 kills last season. Other key returnees include Hailey Duncan, who was second with 140 kills and led the team with 58 blocks and Olivia De Jesus, who had 52 blocks.

Atilano, who had 586 assists last season, is being pushed at setter by Jamie Bissmeyer, a freshman from Virginia Beach's Salem High School who had 80 digs last season.

"I think our overall skill development has improved since last season," Chao said. "The system that we want to run is the same, but now we have better players who are able to execute the system.

"There is better cohesion within the group. There is a clarity of roles and improvement in ability."

Unlike ODU football, which began as an FCS independent and thus was able to win right away, the Monarch volleyball program is playing in a good conference that is competitive nationally. Western Kentucky and Rice both garnered NCAA bids last season, and WKU won two NCAA matches before being eliminated by eventual national champion Kentucky.

"I know most other teams are returning most of their players as well and they will be improved, so it may be tricky to evaluate what our improvement is," he said.

"The results may not always tell the story."

ODU begins the season with four tournaments, including stops at Appalachian State on Sept. 3-4, Liberty Sept. 10-11 and then back at ODU on Sept. 17-18 for the Quest for the Crown tournament, which ends with the Monarchs playing their first match ever against Norfolk State on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 4 p.m.

Then comes a series of 12 games against Conference USA teams.

ODU will play two games in one day in most of the non-conference tournaments.

"Two matches in one day shouldn't be as difficult as two practices in one day we've been having the previous two weeks," he said.

"It gives us a chance to try out different looks, to have a cluster of matches that we can evaluate where we are and where we need to go."

ODU hosts the C-USA tournament this season and just missed making the field last season.

"Obviously, our goal is to make the tournament," he said.

And play before a full house.


The Monarchs compete in the Big East Conference and were one of the last eliminated from NCAA at-large consideration in 2019 and the 2021 spring season. Last year's NCAA field was reduced from the usual 18 teams to 12, meaning there were only three at-large bids.

ODU was likely a victory away from the NCAA tournament last season – coach Andrew Griffiths said a victory over Liberty might have gotten the Monarchs a bid.

"As it was, we made some steps in the spring," he said. "It felt like it was a springboard. I think the team is quite excited to go out and prove something this season."

Griffiths said his team benefited more than some of its opponents from the COVID eligibility rule.

"Some other programs lost some players and all of our players stayed," he said. "It should help us quite a bit.

"We're quite excited about some of our newcomers."

Meghan Smart, a graduate transfer from Appalachian State, was the Offensive Player of the Year in the Mid-American Conference with 28 points.

She came to ODU not only to play field hockey, but for academic reasons. She was admitted into ODU's highly competitive graduate speech pathology program.

"She is now playing right-back for us, and was a forward at App State," Griffiths said. "And she's a natural. She's really strong at that position."

ODU also has Aubrey Mytych, a transfer from Penn State who had an assist against ODU last season, and two standout freshman from Europe's low countries in Alix Marien, a midfielder from Kapellen, Belgium; and Frederique Zandbergen from Tilburg, Holland.

ODU also has plenty of talented returnees. Marlon de Bruijne, a 5-8 forward from Den Bosch, Holland, scored 15 goals and added two assists last season as a freshman. She was named Preseason Co-BIG EAST Offensive Player of the Year recently.

Teammate Delphine Le Jeune, from Ghent, Belgium, was also on the all-league preseason team. She had four goals and four assists last season. Marlee McClendon (10 assists) from Virginia Beach also returns and Nicole Fredricks, a 5-7 sophomore from West Chester, Pennsylvania, had five goals last season.

ODU is playing a difficult schedule this season that includes two games with No. 8 Virginia and single games with No. 10 Liberty, No. 12 Duke, No. 23 VCU and No. 24 James Madison University, in addition to Delaware, which won last year's CAA crown and advanced to the NCAA tournament.

Delaware was the last non-Power 5 program to win a national championship – the Blue Hens defeated North Carolina in the national championship game in 2016 played at ODU.

Griffths said Delaware will be a good test for a team that is talented but also young.

"We've been pushing the boundary and just haven't gotten through the last couple of years and I feel like it's coming," he said.

"We're really young, we're probably going to start five freshmen. But there's a lot of talent, a lot of good young players. This is an exciting time for the team and the program."

Minium was twice nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in his 39 years at The Virginian-Pilot and won 27 state and national writing awards. He covers ODU athletics for Follow him on Twitter @Harry_MiniumODU, Instagram @hbminium1 or email