Coming off a very successful 44-5 campaign in 1999, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's volleyball team is ready for the program's 25th year as the Lady Cougars head into the 2000 season.
MVNC returns eight letterwinners and three starters from last season's team that posted the best winning percentage (.898) in the program's history. The Lady Cougars have also added six new players that include three former high school All-Ohioans.
"Last year's team put together an incredible season," said MVNC head coach Paul Swanson of the squad that won the American Mideast Conference title with a 13-0 mark and advanced to the championship match of the NAIA Region IX Tournament. "This year's team has even more potential, but the key to our success will be reaching that potential."
Swanson, who is entering his 17th season at the helm of the Lady Cougars, has posted a 539-195 overall record (.734) during his time at MVNC. He has led the team to four conference titles, nine National Christian College Athletic Association district or region titles, and nine straight trips to the NCCAA National Tournament. MVNC has also won 30-plus matches in each of the past seven years.
One key to the 2000 season will be replacing the four seniors who led last year's team. Rachel Widener, an outside hitter, was an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American, while middle hitter Jessica Huffaker earned AMC Second Team honors. Becky Jefferys, a setter, and Amber Rice, an outside hitter, were also key components of the success that the 1999 team experienced.
Making this task easier for Swanson is a solid group of returning players. Junior setter Andrea Rudd averaged 4.76 assists per game last season as she split time with Jefferys in the Lady Cougars' two-setter attack. Senior Amy Shearrow and freshman Jessica Adams will back up Rudd at the all important setter position. Shearrow led the team in serving at 98.4 percent in 1999, while Adams earned Honorable Mention All-Conference honors at Mount Vernon High School.
MVNC has plenty of firepower on the outside as juniors Darcee Hoberg and Amanda Schumm headline the list of outside hitters. Hoberg was an AMC First Team and an NAIA Region IX Second Team selection a year ago, while Schumm earned AMC Second Team honors in 1999. The pair combined to average nearly six kills per game.
Other players competing for playing time at outside hitter will be Shearrow, senior Jai Holland, junior Deanna Stayman, sophomore Mary Porter, and freshman Jeni Vanderhoof. Holland returns to the team after a two-year lay-off, while Stayman was an NCCAA Honorable Mention All-East Region pick last year. Meanwhile, Vanderhoof was an All-Ohio Third Team selection at River Valley High School.
The middle hitter position will also be highly contested with senior Scarlett Habrun, sophomore Katie Zipf, and freshmen Carrie McClelland, Jessica Harding, and Chelsea Knight all very capable of making big contributions to the team. Habrun led the team in blocks per game (1.06) last year, while Zipf was named to the AMC All-Freshmen Team. McClelland and Harding were both two-time All-Ohio selections at Fredericktown High School and Garaway High School respectively, and Knight was a two-time All-Conference pick at Northwestern High School.
"We have solid group of juniors and seniors returning with plenty of experience," said Swanson. "They will be counted on for leadership, especially early in the season. Our new players all have very good potential. The key will be what the time table is for the development of that potential."
MVNC, the two-time defending AMC champions, will look for its third straight conference title as the Lady Cougars compete in the tough 15-team league. Other top teams in the conference include Malone College, Walsh University, Cedarville College, and Ohio Dominican College.
In addition to its conference slate, MVNC will travel to NCAA Division II powers, Ashland University and the University of Findlay. The Lady Cougars begin the season with a tri-match at St. Xavier (Ill.) University that includes the University of St. Francis (Ill.), ranked #21 in the NAIA preseason poll. The team will also play a non-conference match at Taylor (Ind.) University, ranked #11 in the NAIA preseason poll.
Besides those matches, MVNC will also compete in numerous tournaments that include the Indiana Wesleyan University Invitational, the Lady Cougars' own Wazie Invitational, and the NCCAA East Regional Tournament. King (Tenn.) College, ranked #16 in the NAIA preseason poll, will be part of the field at the Wazie Invitational, while Taylor will be at the Indiana Wesleyan event.
With a difficult schedule in front of them, Swanson will look to help MVNC reach its potential as the season progresses. The ultimate goal would be to win the NAIA Region IX Tournament and earn the program's first-ever berth in the NAIA National Tournament in West Palm Beach, Florida.