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Memory of former teammate, play of sophomore Farian drive SHU volleyball into postseason

November 29, 2018

There’s a room inside Seton Hill’s McKenna Center where Griffins volleyball coach Rick Hall and his players discuss team-only matters. For the past several weeks, a frequent topic has been former teammate Maggie Murray, a 2018 graduate who died in late September as the result of a boating accident.

Before each match, the players hang two blue balloons -- blue was Murray’s favorite color -- around a picture of her that overlooks the court. They tie blue ribbons on their shoes and write “Play4Mags” on their legs. Her picture also is kept on the bench wherever the team plays.

Those trappings keep Murray’s memory vibrant, and through the tragedy, Hall said, the team has matured and bonded.

“I think they have put it in prespective,” Hall said. “There’s a lot of things that are told in that room that don’t leave that room, but what I can tell you is that we can be willing to play the rest of the season, and then we’ll be able to let loose.

“They’re never going to be over it, but it has brought them closer together.”

The players channeled their emotions to the court with stellar results. The Griffins finished the regular season on an eight-match winning streak to go 14-4 in the PSAC (21-8 overall), win the PSAC Southwest title and earn the third seed for the conference tournament.

Seton Hill hosts No. 6 Clarion at 7 p.m. Tuesday.

Several factors have contributed to the Griffins’ run, not the least of which has been the performance of sophomore outside hitter Viktoria Farian.

The 5-foot-10 Ohio native had offers to play Division I, but those schools, Hall said, wanted her as a defensive specialist. Farian wanted to join a team that would let her play all the way around.

“I think she’s the best all-around player in the PSAC,” he said. “She’s the all-around package. She can serve. She can block. She can hit. She can play defense.”

Said Farian: “I just try to focus on what I am doing. I feel like I’m definitely up there, but I haven’t been looking at other people.”

During the winning streak, Farian averaged 4.07 kills and 4.03 digs per set. Included was a 20-kill, 22-dig effort in a 3-1 win over Clarion on Friday.

Junior Jillian Livorse also has elevated her game. She ended the regular season with three consecutive double-digit kill matches. Plum grad Rachel Satira, a senior, has complemented her shot-blocking prowess with more aggressive offense.

Greensburg Central Catholic grad Leah Bisignani has been steady all season, ranking third on the team in total kills (188) and total blocks (70).

Overall, Farian said, the team has been better defensively than it was earlier in the season. And as well as the Griffins have played over the past couple of weeks, she said, there is more in the tank.

“I don’t think we’ve hit our best play yet, which is exciting because we have so much potential as a team,” she said. “It’s coming to the point where it’s going to matter with tournament play and the NCAA in the future.”

To climb to the top of the PSAC, the Griffins have a tough road. First-round opponent Clarion defeated them earlier this season. No. 1 seed Gannon, the No. 20 team in the country, and No. 2 Shippensburg, led by Hempfield grad Morgan DeFloria, also won early-season meetings.

The Griffins are undaunted.

They will continue to draw inspiration and cohesion from Murray during those private moments in the meeting room. And they believe a title is within reach.

“We definitely have the potential to steal a conference title this year,” Bisignani said, “especially since we haven’t played Gannon and Shippensburg since the beginning of the year, and we have gotten a lot better since then.”

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