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Owens volleyball aims for more success (08-29-13) PDF Print E-mail
Written by THOMAS SCHMELTZ Sentinel Sports Writer   
Thursday, 29 August 2013 09:40
Owens volleyball player Dominique Yates is seen during a practice in the Owens Student Health Activities Center August 28, 2013. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
Success and Owens Community College volleyball seem to mesh together perfectly.
Especially since head coach Sonny Lewis arrived on campus 13 years ago.
The eccentric man, known for sporting Hawaiian shirts on the sidelines, entered his 13th season at the helm of the Express volleyball program with a 448-145 record.
That includes a 142-8 record in conference play, leading to 11 OCCAC championships. Lewis has also been named OCCAC coach of the year 10 times and has made a trip to the national tournament three times.
Perhaps his best teams have come in the past three seasons.
Owens is 124-25 and 35-1 in the conference since 2010, including a 45-5 season in 2011 and a 37-11 season in 2012.
Lewis has guided his teams to nationals two of the past three seasons, and he is hoping to do the same this year.
After finishing fourth in the nation last year, the Express entered 2013 ranked No. 4 in the NJCAA Division II polls, but this season they are off to an 0-4 start.
"We still have very high expectations for this upcoming season, even with the slow start we've gotten off to," Lewis said.
The veteran coach cited the loss of setter Molly Hilfinger, outside hitter and middle blocker Dakia Sellers and outside hitter Alyssa Meis as a reason for the lack of early success.
Sellers was an NJCAA Division II first-team All-American last season.
"Those three were a big part of our team last year," he said. "So we knew we were going to have to replace them and it would be a struggle. But we knew we had some good kids coming back."
Among the returnees is sophomore defensive specialist Lauren Urbanski, who led the Express with 953 digs a season ago.
Urbanski, a first-team All-OCCAC selection last year, brings experience to the team and feels that the first four games will not have an effect on the remainder of the season.
"Having those four games under our belt, we've learned a lot and we know what to do, what to change," Urbanski said.
Aricka LaVoy, an Eastwood graduate and Owens freshman, is seen during Owens volleyball practice August 28, 2013.
"In preseason tournaments, that's where I saw a lot of our potential," she added. "But (last) weekend, it was just lacking."
Owens' downfall thus far has been its offense, Lewis said.
The Express return six players in all from last year, with just three of those being offensive threats.
"We're very good defensively," Lewis said. "We're just waiting for our offense to catch up to our defense and that's just a lot of the hitters and setters coming in are new. It's just them learning the speed of the game, which is much faster.
"Once we're able to turn that defense into offense, we're going to be a much, much better team," he added. "It's trying to get them to learn to work together."
Beginning the season winless has Lewis and Urbanski questioning the pressure the team has felt with trying to follow up teams of so much success.
"They've talked a little bit about feeling the pressure to win because of the tradition we've had here," Lewis said. "We try to express to them that this is new ... you have to start your own tradition."
Freshman defensive specialist Aricka LaVoy, a 2012 graduate of Eastwood High School, is no stranger to success. In her four years, the Eagles had at least a share of the conference title in every season. And she hopes to continue that success with Owens.
"It's a tradition that you just want to keep going," LaVoy said. "It's something that you get used to and you don't want to lose, you just want to keep the winning feeling."
Owens, which will look to turn its season around as soon as possible, will host the Owens Invitational starting Friday.
"We have to turn things around as quickly as we can to get building to where we are making a serious challenge to get to the national tournament," said Lewis.

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