NewsYoung Lady Cougars Ready to Gain Experience in New Season
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - One would not blame Mount Vernon Nazarene University head coach Paul Swanson if he passed out nametags to the players on the women’s volleyball team as they prepare to begin the 2004 season.
With only five returning players (of which two are juniors and one is a senior) from the squad that went 36-10 in 2003, the Lady Cougars will enter the new campaign lacking in the collegiate experience column. Gone are Carrie Mason, Jessica Harding, Chelsea Knight, Jeni Vanderhoof, Jessica Adams, and Katey Percival, who combined to record 4,191 kills, 1,654 blocks, 4,182 digs, 4,628 assists, and 513 aces during their careers at MVNU.
However, despite the lack of experienced college players on the Lady Cougars’ roster, Swanson is pleased with the group of players he has assembled for the 2004 season. "It would be easy for people to look at our team and think that we are in a rebuilding year,” said the veteran coach, who is entering his 21st season at MVNU with a 688-238 record in his 20 years with the program (.743 winning percentage). "While we lack experience at the college level, I believe that we make up for that with our athleticism and youthful ability. This team is working hard to get better each day, and I am excited to see how we improve as the season unfolds.”
Leading the way for the Lady Cougars in 2004 will be juniors Amanda Stevens and Jenny Weaver. Stevens, a 6-foot outside hitter, led MVNU with 477 kills to go with 37 aces and 532 digs as she was named to the American Mideast Conference South Division Second Team as a sophomore in 2003. Weaver, a 5-10 middle hitter, posted a team-best 181 blocks along with 294 kills, 29 aces, and 185 digs to earn National Christian College Athletic Association East Region honors last year.
Joining Stevens at the outside hitter spot will be sophomore Katie Ickes (5-10), who contributed 57 kills and 21 digs in 42 games as a freshman. Bethany Anderson (5-7), the lone senior on the team, added 28 kills, 19 aces, and 204 digs last year, while sophomore Katie Vipperman (5-8) contributed 11 aces and 48 digs in 32 games a year ago.
Freshman Shena Beheler (5-10), who red-shirted in 2003 after earning All-Ohio Second Team honors at Fredericktown High School, will join Weaver at middle hitter. Freshmen Rachael Stevens (6-foot) and Tiffany Milburn (5-7), who each made three appearances in the state Final Four while members of the Centerburg High School team, will both add depth at both the middle and outside hitter positions with Stevens also competing for the rightside hitter spot.
Freshmen Allison Klusmann (5-8) and Ashlee Brandt (5-6) will handle the setting duties for the Lady Cougars. Klusmann led Tallmadge High School to three Suburban League titles, three district championships, and two trips to the regional finals while also being named to the All-Ohio Second Team. Meanwhile, Brandt was a two-time All-Sunkist League First Team pick in California and helped Norte Vista High School to a league title as a junior in 2002.
Freshman Brittany Dixon (5-8) will join Anderson, Milburn, and Vipperman in the back row and is one of the leading candidates to fill the role of libero when the team uses one. Dixon helped Cowan High School to the Indiana state Final Four three times and was named to the All-State Team once.
MVNU will get the season under way when the Lady Cougars travel to Cumberland (Ky.) College for a tri-match with Brescia (Ky.) University on August 26. Then, the team will take part in the nine-team Lee (Tenn.) University Tournament on August 27-28 that will include the host Lady Flames, ranked ninth in the NAIA preseason poll, and Lubbock Christian (Texas) University, ranked 17th in the NAIA preseason poll.
In addition to the tournament at Lee, MVNU will also compete in the Houghton (N.Y.) College Tournament on September 3-4, the AMC North-South Challenge at MVNU on September 17-18, and the Best of the Best Tournament at the University of St. Francis (Ind.) on Sept. 24-25. Among the teams at the Best of the Best Tournament will be the College of St. Mary (Neb.), ranked seventh in the NAIA preseason poll, Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) University, ranked 14th, Cornerstone (Mich.) University, ranked 15th, and Indiana University-Southeast, ranked 25th.
The Lady Cougars will also look to challenge for the AMC South Division title once again after finishing third in 2003 with a 12-4 conference mark. Two-time defending champion Walsh University is ranked 13th in the NAIA preseason poll, while runner-up Cedarville University has won three of the last five matches with the Lady Cougars including the last two at MVNU. AMC South Division play will consist of home and away matches with Walsh, Cedarville, Malone College, Ohio Dominican University, Tiffin University, Shawnee State University, Urbana University, and the University of Rio Grande.
In addition, the Lady Cougars will play non-conference matches against Ashland University, Otterbein College, and Muskingum College. MVNU will also look to qualify for the NCCAA National Tournament for the fourteenth straight year with this year’s event being held in West Palm Beach, Florida, at Palm Beach Atlantic University on November 4-6.
"With a young team, I know that we will have ups and downs this season as the new players adjust to the college style of play,” said Swanson. "However, it is my goal that our strong schedule will make us a better team by the end of the year and prepare us for a long run in the postseason.”