YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – After playing for a powerhouse volleyball club and a competitive high school program, Casey D’Ambrose experienced something new during her first two years at Youngstown State: losing.
The Penguins went 2-27 during D’Ambrose’s freshman season and were 5-24 the year after. The Addison Trail grad is a product of the prestigious Sports Performance club and was used to winning in her youth volleyball career.
Last year things got much better for the Penguins. They went 15-14, the best season the program had in 13 years, and D’Ambrose was right at the heart of it as the team’s setter.
“When I first got to campus they weren’t really any expectations,” D’Ambrose said. “I think it’s just a really different mindset. Now everybody wants the same thing. We have the same goal and we have a great support system.
“When I committed here it was a rebuilding year. We’ve just been rebuilding the program for the past four years and it’s been a great experience.”
D’Ambrose was the only player on the team to play in all 112 sets last year and with a year to go has the seventh-most career assists in the program’s history with 1,699. She played as a defensive specialist as a freshman and took over as starting setter as a sophomore.
Coach Mark Hardaway helped guide the Penguins’ improvement last year in his first year in charge. That team had just one senior so D’Ambrose’s expectations are even higher this season.
“I think we have a really strong team right now,” D’Ambrose said. “We have all of our starters coming back. We have a very large senior class and we bonded so well. I think last year we just came out and were ready to make a change.”
The change has lifted spirits throughout the program and D’Ambrose has emerged as one of the leaders of the team. As the starting setter, D’Ambrose has to keep the team organized and on task. She revels in the responsibility.
“I love being able to run the offense,” D’Ambrose said. “I love being able to trick the other team with the plays we run. It’s a really cool experience with how we run the court.”
The senior setter, who stayed on campus in the summer to train, started volleyball at a young age and said she didn’t have much choice of position once she realized she wouldn’t be tall enough to be a hitter. The 5-foot-9 D’Ambrose has grown into the position ever since.
Being a setter allowed her to share an extra connection with her older sister, Dani, who played at Northern Illinois. When Casey was a freshman at Addison Trail she was able to set Dani, who was a senior hitter that year. For all of Casey’s volleyball accomplishments, that still ranks highly.
“I loved being able to play with my sister,” she said. “I started on varsity as a freshman and I was able to set Dani.”