NewsLady Cougars Set to Open 2005 Volleyball Season
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - After posting a 34-14 overall record, winning the American Mideast Conference Tournament, finishing as the NAIA Region IX Tournament runner-up, and being ranked 21st in the final NAIA national poll in 2004, the Mount Vernon Nazarene University women’s volleyball team returns eight players from that team as the Lady Cougars make final preparations for the start of the 2005 season.
However, despite the success the team had in 2004 and the experienced group of returning players, head coach Paul Swanson is still cautiously optimistic as he prepares to begin his 22nd season at MVNU with a record of 722-252 (.741 winning percentage).
"There are several key questions to ask of our team as we enter the new season,” said Swanson, whose team received votes in the NAIA preseason poll. "While we have a lot of returning players this year, our success will depend on how much better those returning players have gotten since last year. We also cannot rest on our past laurels of success as the other teams in our conference continue to get better each year and make this a strong volleyball conference. In addition, we are traveling to more tournaments this year with another challenging schedule.”
The Lady Cougars will be led by the team’s two seniors, Amanda Stevens and Jenny Dunster. Stevens, an outside hitter, led the team with 610 kills and 717 digs in 2004 as she ranked fourth and second in school history respectively in single-season totals in those categories. For her efforts, she was named to the National Christian College Athletic Association All-American First Team and became only the sixth MVNU player to be named an NAIA Honorable Mention All-American. She enters the season ranked fifth in school history in digs (1,789), eighth in kills (1,368), and tenth in aces (154).
Dunster, a middle hitter, posted the sixth-highest single-season block total in school history last year with 228. She also recorded 424 kills, 435 digs, and a team-best 97.9 serving percentage as she was named to the NCCAA All-American Second Team. Dunster, who got married over the summer, enters her final season ranked ninth in Lady Cougar history with 476 career blocks.
Joining Amanda Stevens at the outside hitter position will be junior Katie Ickes. Ickes moved into a starting role as a sophomore and compiled 378 kills, 103 blocks, 114 digs, and 11 aces. Sophomores Rachael Stevens (321 kills and 76 blocks) and Tiffany Milburn (290 digs) could also see time at the position along with newcomer junior Jessi Weaver, who will join her older sister, Dunster, on the team.
Rachael Stevens will be the primary option at the right-side hitter position to start the year, while freshman Lindsey Anderson will battle for playing time after earning All-Conference honors at Trinity High School.
Joining Dunster at the middle hitter spot will be sophomore Shena Beheler, who led the team with 229 total blocks and a .328 attack percentage to go along with 581 kills and 63 aces. She had the fifth-highest single-season block total and the sixth-highest single-season kill total for the Lady Cougars in her first collegiate season in 2004. Anderson could also see action as a middle hitter.
Sophomore Allison Klusmann returns at the all important setter position after handing out 1,914 assists last season - just 56 assists shy of the MVNU single-season record. She also added 93 kills, 79 blocks, 33 aces, and 407 digs as she was named to the AMC South Division All-Freshmen Team. Rachael Stevens and freshman Bryee Hawkins, who made the All-Ohio Second Team at Centerburg High School, will back Klusmann up.
Junior Katie Vipperman, who registered 148 digs in 2004, will compete with Milburn, Hawkins, and freshman Anyssa Incerpi, who was an All-Conference and All-District performer at Carrollton High School, for playing time in the back row as defensive specialists.
"We have a lot of familiar faces, but several of them will be asked to play even more of a role,” said Swanson. "The key to our success will depend on how well and how quickly we are able to gel together as a team.”
MVNU will get the season under way on August 24 when the team travels to Spring Arbor (Mich.) University for a tri-match with Concordia (Mich.) University. The team will also continue its opening trip with a tri-match at Goshen (Ind.) College on August 25 that includes a match against Aquinas (Mich.) College. The busy opening weekend will conclude with four matches at the University of Michigan-Dearborn Invitational on August 26-27 that includes a meeting with Indiana Wesleyan University, who received votes in the NAIA preseason poll.
The Lady Cougars will compete in the Roberts Wesleyan (N.Y.) College Invitational, the College of Wooster Invitational, and the Best of the Best Tournament at the University of Saint Francis (Ind.), which includes preseason NAIA nationally-ranked Cornerstone (Mich.) University (16th), Cedarville University (18th), Savannah (Ga.) College of Art and Design (19th), and Indiana University-Southeast (21st). MVNU will also host its own tournament on September 16-17.
The Lady Cougars will also look to challenge for the AMC South Division title once again after finishing third during the regular season in 2004 with an 11-5 mark before winning the AMC Tournament. Defending champion Cedarville returns all but one player from last year’s team that went 16-0 in AMC South Division play, while Walsh University also received votes in the NAIA preseason poll. AMC South Division play will consist of home and away matches with Cedarville, Walsh, Malone College, Ohio Dominican University, Tiffin University, Shawnee State University, Urbana University, and the University of Rio Grande.
In addition, MVNU will play non-conference matches against Notre Dame College, Marian (Ind.) College, and Geneva (Pa.) College. The Lady Cougars will look to qualify for the NCCAA National Tournament for the fifteenth straight year with this year’s event being held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, at Northwestern College on November 3-5.