(PAINESVILLE, OHIO) - Last year, a young,
underclassman-laden Lake Erie College volleyball team battled both
inexperience and the move up in competition. But those
experiences have this year's squad tested and ready for its second
season in Division II.
"We had so many new players contribute for us last season," said eighth-year head coach Gary VanCauwenberge. "But they had to get accustomed to college ball, get more mature in their bodies in terms of strength and conditioning, and feel more confident on the court. The older players already had that, but it was their first year of Division II.
"Now we all go into this year knowing what to expect. We're definitely going to be a better squad competitively than last year. The combination of the experience the older players now have and the new players coming in will prove effective for us."
The Storm returns 13 members from last year's team, but did lose two key contributors in right-side hitter Kelly Litman and arguably the best player in school history, middle hitter Tiffany Farner.
"It's difficult to lose players who have made such an impact that Tiffany and Kelly have made. Both were four-year starters and will be hard to replace," VanCauwenberge said.
Stepping into the leadership role vacated by Farner and Litman are this year's seniors, outside hitters Erica Muniak (Geneva, Ohio/Geneva) and Katie Yanesh (Wickliffe, Ohio/Notre Dame Cathedral Latin).
"Our seniors are doing a great job of providing a very good example for the whole team to follow," VanCauwenberge said. "They are working hard and are very eager to get our season going."
In addition, juniors Brittany Hammonds (Newark, Ohio/Newark), Lauren Johnson (Wellington, Ohio/Keystone) and Rachel Riley (Galloway, Ohio/Westland) all return with considerable experience during their careers. Hammonds and Riley made great contributions in their first two years while Johnson has been a standout defensive specialist for the past two seasons.
VanCauwenberge will look for his eight-member sophomore class to make a big jump from year one to year two. Five saw considerable action as freshman, headed by right-side hitter Michelle Naab (North Royalton, Ohio/North Royalton) who ranked second in blocking and third in attacking on the team in 2008.
She's joined by setter Lauren Bogatay (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor), who averaged a team-leading 4.06 assists per set, and libero Brittany Raggets (Eastlake, Ohio/Villa St. Joseph, who had a team-high 310 digs. Jenni Laureno (Lyndhurst, Ohio/Brush), meanwhile, will look to step into Farner's middle hitter spot. Setter Krista O'Connor (North Royalton, Ohio/North Royalton) was second on the team in setting and third in service aces last season and will look again to be a big contributor this season.
"The biggest difference will probably be our sophomores. You can see if their faces that they are a bit more mature," VanCauwenberge said. "Having gone through a full year of D-II competition and a full year of our strength and conditioning, their bodies are now able to keep up with the pace of the game and the pace of our style."
Another strong recruiting class is not only building for the future, but could provide some benefits right away. Several of the six-member freshman class could find their way onto the floor sooner rather than later.
"Some newcomers will be contributors right away," said VanCauwenberge. "There are opportunities for all of them to see immediate playing time. It just depends on how well they adapt and adjust. But right now they are definitely pushing our returners to keep their edge as they keep pushing themselves which is exactly what you want from your young players. It's a nice healthy competition for spots. They're working hard, but just as important, they are working together."
Lake Erie opens the season Aug. 28 at the Crimson Hawk/Hampton Inn Invitational at Indiana University of Pennsylvania. The 2009 schedule features 36 matches, a significant increase from a year ago. The team will host nine dates in Athletic Center Arena, beginning with a Sept. 9 match against Malone University.
"It'll be a longer year, with more matches, but against the same high level of competition," VanCauwenberge said. "Our schedule is always going to be competitive because I want to play the best and beat the best. I want to be a good program because we're beating good teams."
The Storm will compete independently this season in its first season as an active member of Division II before joining the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (GLIAC) beginning with the 2010-11 school year. Lake Erie will however compete in the GLIAC/GLVC (Great Lakes Valley Conference) Crossover event Oct. 16-17 in Lansing, Mich.