NewsLady Cougars Ready to Attack New Volleyball Season
written by Dave Parsons, Sports Information Director
MOUNT VERNON, Ohio - The Mount Vernon Nazarene University women’s volleyball team will look to continue the program’s winning tradition when the Lady Cougars get the 2006 season under way on Thursday with a pair of matches at Spring Arbor (Mich.) University.
Coming off a 42-12 season in 2005 in which the team advanced to the NAIA Region IX Tournament championship game for the fifth time in seven years, MVNU must replace three key starters who played a big role in the team’s success. Gone are outside hitter Amanda Stevens (2,004 kills, 2,519 digs, and 214 aces), middle hitter Jenny Dunster (1,475 kills, 1,588 digs, 680 blocks), and setter Allison Klusmann (4,046 assists), who each ranked in the top ten in school history in various categories.
However, head coach Paul Swanson likes what he has seen so far from his 2006 squad and sees the new season as journey and not a quick sprint out of the gate.
"When you look at our team this year and compare it to last year’s team, we are definitely missing some of the key components of last year’s success,” said Swanson, who is entering his 23rd year at MVNU and stands as the NAIA’s active leader in wins with a 779-279 overall record. "However, our returning players have all improved and our new players are extremely talented and could make an immediate impact. We do have some questions from a lineup perspective that we need to answer, but we also have a lot of versatility to do a variety of different things. I really think that this team will continue to get better as the season progresses, and we want to be playing our best volleyball at the end of the year.”
Leading the Lady Cougars in 2006 will be junior middle hitter Shena Beheler. In just two seasons, Beheler has already moved into ninth place on the school’s career blocks list (495) and tenth place in career kills (1,292). She was named to the American Mideast Conference First Team, the National Christian College Athletic Association All-American Second Team, and the NAIA Honorable Mention All-American Team as a sophomore after recording 711 kills and 266 blocks.
Joining Beheler at the middle hitter spot will be sophomore Lindsey Anderson and freshman Stephanie Zollars. Anderson posted 68 kills and 28 blocks in 53 games as a freshman, while Zollars was an All-Conference performer at Bellbrook High School.
Seniors Katie Ickes, Katie Vipperman, and Jessi Weaver lead the competition for playing time at the outside hitter position, while Anderson and sophomore Audrey Rider should also figure into the mix. Ickes is coming off a career-best 458 kills last year as she was an NCCAA East Region Honorable Mention pick, while Vipperman posted 383 digs and a team-best .950 serve reception percentage. Weaver recorded 28 kills and 10 aces in 26 games, and Rider is transferring in from Asbury (Ky.) College where she was named to the NCCAA Mid-East Team after smashing 214 kills.
Freshman Courtney Springer is the team’s primary option at the right-side hitter position. Springer set school records with 331 kills and 293 blocks as a senior at Crestview High School as she was named the Northwest Conference Player of the Year and selected to the All-Ohio Second Team.
Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into the season surrounds the setting position. Senior Rachael Walpole and freshman Kaylin Austen are both viable options for Swanson as the team heads into the season. Walpole brings two-years of playing experience and pounded 379 kills last year, while Austen handed out 475 assists and was an Honorable Mention All-Ohio pick at Shelby High School last season. If Walpole is not used in the setter role, then she will factor into the outside hitter playing equation.
Vipperman, junior Tiffany Milburn, and sophomore Anyssa Incerpi will all see action in the back row for the Lady Cougars. Milburn led MVNU with 72 aces last year and was third on the team with 615 digs, while Incerpi saw action in 25 games.
The Lady Cougars’ schedule should once again prove to be challenging as MVNU looks to prepare itself for a run deep into the postseason. The team will compete in the University of Michigan-Dearborn Invitational, the Cornerstone (Mich.) University Invitational, the Indiana Wesleyan University Invitational, and the Best of the Best Tournament in addition to hosting its own Papa John’s Invitational. The Lady Cougars are scheduled to face third-ranked Columbia (Mo.) College (last year’s national runner-up) and 18th-ranked Olivet Nazarene (Ill.) University in tournament action, and the team could square off against fifth-ranked Madonna (Mich.) University, 12th-ranked Savannah College of Art and Design (Ga.), 13th-ranked Georgetown (Ky.) College, 16th-ranked Albertson (Idaho) College, 21st-ranked Doane (Neb.) College, and 24th-ranked Cornerstone (Mich.) University in other tournament action.
MVNU will also compete for the AMC South Division title once again after finishing in a tie for second place with an 11-5 mark last year. Defending champion Cedarville University, ranked 17th, will once again be the early favorite after beating the Lady Cougars four times last year. MVNU will also square off against Walsh University, Urbana University, Malone College, Ohio Dominican University, Tiffin University, Shawnee State University, and the University of Rio Grande in conference play.
One other goal for the Lady Cougars will be earning a sixteenth straight trip to the NCCAA National Tournament, which will be held once again at Northwestern (Minn.) College on November 2-4. MVNU has won 14 NCCAA district or region titles over the past 15 seasons and will look to keep that streak going again this year.
"I really like the make up of this year’s team,” said Swanson. "Everyone is working really hard on the court and the chemistry is great off the court. We have a challenging schedule ahead of us, but I have confidence that this team will work hard to improve as the season progresses.”