Lovato and Cascioppo give Mavericks a dangerous 2-3 punch at outside hitter

CORINNE CASCIOPPO IS CAPABLE of hitting through any block opponents throw at her, but all the freshman is concerned with is winning.

GABRIELLE LOVATO, 16, IS A GOOD outside hitter, but what sets her apart is her jump-serve, which can be hard for opponents to handle.

Dave Fleming has a problem, one that several coaches envy.

On the one hand, there’s Gabrielle Lovato, a 5-foot-10 junior outside hitter who can knock you off your feet with her jump serve. All she’s done is have one match with a school-record 10 aces and another with nine.

On the other hand, there’s Corinne Cascioppo, a 6-3 freshman outside hitter who can send a volleyball through the best block an opponent can muster.

She’s had three matches this season with 20 or more kills, one of them coming against Nebraska-Kearney, the top seed and host school in this week’s RMAC tournament.

Then there’s Alisan Tompkins, a 5-10 junior outside hitter who is the leading hitter (301 kills) and one of the best all-around players on the team.

Here’s Fleming’s problem: You only need two outside hitters on the floor at the same time.

Tompkins has the No. 1 spot nailed down.

“Ali has been playing great, she had a great match against Western (New Mexico),” Fleming said. “Bria (Lovato) and Corinne is a great problem to have.”

Which one is in the starting lineup Thursday against Western New Mexico in the first round of the conference tournament depends on a few factors. One of those factors is what Fleming sees in practice during the week. Another — a big factor — is Lovato’s jump serve.

“If Bria’s jump serve is on, she’s gonna play,” Fleming said.

But that doesn’t mean Cascioppo will be cooling her heels.

If Lovato, or Tompkins, for that matter, has an off night, Fleming doesn’t hesitate to put the California kid on the floor.

“I think they both want to start, and they both feel more comfortable starting,” Fleming said. “Some of it could depend on the situation. Corinne is bigger than Bria, so if they have a big wide slide or backside hitter, that would be an option that we would go with Corinne.”

They’ve been a good 2-3 punch for the Mavs (14-12), who are the No. 7 seed in the tournament.

“It’s always a competition,” said Cascioppo, who was literally a last-minute addition to the roster this fall. “Every single girl at every single spot. It’s always competition to play, but in the end, if we’re getting
W’s, it doesn’t matter who’s on the court.

“If the team’s working well together and all the girls are cheering on the bench, I don’t care if I’m the last girl on the bench and Bria’s getting aces in a row. If we’re winning and playing as a team, that’s all I care about.”

Cascioppo had signed to play at the University of Southern California, but wasn’t a Division I academic qualifier. Fleming got a call from a coaching friend about a 6-3 hitter from Temecula, Calif., who played
in one of the top clubs. Was he interested? Uh, yeah.

Cascioppo found out two days before practice began that she had been admitted and was cleared to play at Mesa State. She arrived at 10 p.m. the night before practice began.

“I didn’t expect (a lot of playing time) when I got here. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I’m glad I landed here at Mesa State,” she said.

“I know all the girls here want to be top-notch volleyball players and I want to be a top-notch volleyball player by the time I leave here.”

The Mavericks would like nothing better than to extract some revenge from Saturday’s four-game loss at Western New Mexico that cost them the No. 2 seed in the RMAC tournament. Fleming figures the
Mavs will have to reach the championship match in order to be in contention for a regional bid, but says it’s not beyond their reach.

“We’re not disappointed in the matchup at all,” he said. “I think the whole team believe we can bet them if we play well. We’re competitive with everybody on our side. We split with Western and we went to five with Metro and Mines. We lost both, but when you go to five, you’re pretty competitive.

“It’s a format we like and a format we’ve been comfortable with. We’ve been pretty successful with elimination games since I’ve been here, and we’ve been pretty successful against Western New Mexico. I think the kids are all looking forward to it, but they know we have to play well.”


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