By Felipe Fontes — STAFF WRITER
The transition from playing high school volleyball to starting for a Division I volleyball program just a few months later is one that most would believe to be too great to handle.
What about ranking in the conference’s top 10 in points, while leading the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in service aces just soon after?
Some would say it couldn’t be done, not in this short amount of time at least.
But Ivania Ortiz, who moved from San Juan, Puerto Rico, to Long Island is no stranger to big transitions.
As her contributions to this thriving Hofstra volleyball team would suggest, she is handling these large transitions just fine – positioning herself as one of the premier outside hitters in the conference after just a couple of months.
“There have been a lot of changes because this is my first time being outside of Puerto Rico full-time. It’s hard, but I’m doing well, so I’m happy,” Ortiz said.
Despite the myriad of changes, there is no doubt that her experience playing on a big stage with the Puerto Rico Under-18 and Under-20 national teams has helped ease her transition.
“The volleyball program here takes a lot of time, and the national team did as well, so that helped me get used to all the things we do before and after games,” Ortiz said.
As preparation is a huge key to a player’s success, it is safe say that this experience Ortiz carried over from the national team has been crucial to her earning playing time.
“Here with our program, there is no difference between a freshman and a senior. Whoever is better on that day is going to play,” said Hofstra head volleyball coach Emily Mansur.
Ortiz has not only played, but has compiled 198 kills, placing her among the elite in the conference, and second on the team right behind sophomore superstar Laura Masciullo.
Ortiz’s 12 assists are third-highest on the team, while her 159 digs on the defensive end is the team’s second highest total, displaying the well-rounded game that has put her on the scene.
If anyone saw this coming, it was Mansur.
Prior to the season beginning, Mansur said, “Ivania Ortiz is someone that we all are going to be hearing a lot about. I think she’s going to be a big player for the program for sure.”
Nobody is happier right now than the head coach herself, whose knack for finding talent outside of the country has provided the team with an outstanding freshman for the second straight year.
Just a year ago, it was Masciullo who was turning heads as a dominant freshman in the conference.
She finished the year third in the CAA in points and kills, and seventh in service aces, earning CAA Rookie of the Year honors by the end of the season.
Ortiz has come in and filled that lofty freshman phenom role that Masciullo held, piling up the statistics while displaying the same drive that inspires her teammates to fight every play.
Now, with two program-changing players coming through the program in consecutive years, a one-two punch is created that can be extremely formidable over the next three years.
“We’ve have had a lot of good outside hitters coming through our program, but I think this is the best duo,” Mansur said.
“This is really going to give us a lot of chances to win good matches having these two outside hitters playing together.”
Of course Masciullo, only one year removed from the same process that Ortiz is in right now, has a lot to pass down to the freshman standout.
“In practices if I’m not doing well or I get frustrated, she comes to me and tries to help me keep going. She always tries to give me advice on how to handle everything. I would say she has done a really good job,” Ortiz said on Masciullo and her advice.
Pair these two players with captain Michela Rucli, along with top-flight setter Luisa Sydlik, and it will be tough to stop this Pride team as the players continue to develop amongst each other for the rest of the season.
“I see a lot of growing going forward. The wins and losses, I don’t know. I hope it’s a lot of wins and that we get the CAA championship. That’s our goal, but definitely as a team I would say we will grow a lot,” Ortiz said.
Growing is inevitable for a young team that is coalescing and gaining momentum as conference play begins to heat up.
The Pride has won nine of its past 13 games and they look to keep it rolling in a tough CAA conference in which only three teams have losing records.
It will be all hands on deck, with Ortiz being a key piece in the quest to a title.
Although Mansur may have been the first to see it coming, it did not take the rest of us very long to find out that the freshman from Puerto Rico is the real deal.