Thirty consecutive wins led the women’s volleyball team to a 2014 National title on Dec. 6, and with only three players graduating, the Spartans will return the majority of the players from their winning season.
The three seniors include setter Kahley Patrick, middle blocker Meagan Burke and right side hitter Jackie Neff. Although small in number, the players brought key elements to the team that head coach Chris Catanach assures will be difficult to replace.
“Two of the three were All-Americans and we don’t have All-Americans replacing them, so that’s going to be a bit of an adjustment,” Catanach said. “Kids will come up through the program and hopefully fill in and take some of that load.”
In particular, Catanach and the players note their apprehension as a result of the loss of a four year starter in Patrick.
“The setter position is critical,” Catanach said. “We’re talking about a four-year starter that is not going to be with us. So that’s not going to be instant, it’s going to be some work. We need somebody to step up and show that they can do that.”
However, while these crucial players are graduating from the team, many honorary players will be returning. For example, National Player of the Year, Berkley Whaley along with the Most Valuable Player of the National Championship, Jessica Wagner, will be back for their final season.
Plus, Marissa Lisenbee, who was a first team All-American, Allee Stelogeannis and Megan Heffron who “are all starters in some form or fashion” will also be returning, according to Catanach.
Now, it is only a matter of filling in the missing spaces. Despite the returning of these valuable players, Catanach still resumes a guarded feeling about the season, saying he has “no predictions” for the outcome.
With a second national championship under their belt, the team realizes that the competition has been more fierce.
“Obviously, because we won, we have a huge target on our backs now and have to work even harder to make sure the other teams don’t catch up to us,” said freshman Kasey Reynolds.
In order to stay on top of their game for the upcoming season, Catanach noted that the team will strive to work on three important skills: serve, serve-receive and a more varied offensive attack.
“It’s hard to improve upon a national championship, as far as our record goes, so we don’t really focus on that,” Catanach said. “We’re going to play a really tough schedule again next year, so we’re hoping to develop and be ready to complete when it comes down to the end.”
While Concordia University was a prominent competitor according to players last season, this year the team does not have their focus on any single game. They know that while rivalries have occurred in the past, now everyone is trying to top the No. 1 team in the country.
“Every team in our conference always plays their best game against us, so that is our motivation to never look past any team,” Reynolds said. “Every team we play will bring their biggest and baddest game.”
If the team is able to make it all the way to the championship match in 2015, it will sure be one to remember, as it is scheduled to be held at UT.
In order to get there, however, Catanach asserts the importance of keeping the players focused on success while the coaches work on building the team itself.
“As a coach, I would love to see our kids be focused to achieve another championship, not rest on their laurels,” Catanach said. “As a staff our goal is to bring in an impact player or two at the eleventh hour.”
Tess Sheets can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org