During the decade of the 1990s, the Mount Vernon Nazarene College women's volleyball team has established itself as one of the top teams in the NAIA Great Lakes Region by compiling a 352-102 overall record (.775 winning percentage) during that span. Even more impressive is that fact that in the 23 years of the program's existence, the Lady Cougars have posted a 604-287 record and a .678 winning percentage.
The 1998 season proved to be no exception as the team finished the year with a school-best 54-7 overall mark that included an American Mideast Conference championship, the AMC Tournament title, and semifinal appearances in both the National Christian College Athletic Association National Tournament and the NAIA Great Lakes Region Tournament.
Coming off a school-record 54-7 season, the obvious question for head coach Paul Swanson and his MVNC women's volleyball team is "How do you top the 1998 season?"
For Swanson and the Lady Cougars, the answer may not be topping last year's record season, but in duplicating the success that MVNC achieved.
The 1999 squad returns four starters and ten of the twelve players from last year's team that recorded the school's third conference title in the past five years. Swanson has also signed two quality freshmen to round out the Lady Cougars' roster.
One of the biggest tasks for Swanson will be finding a way to replace three-time conference Player of the Year and two-time NAIA Honorable Mention All-American Tara Seiter, who finished her stellar four-year career at MVNC in second place on the NAIA's career kills and career blocks lists.
However, making this task easier will be an outstanding group of four seniors who have posted a three-year record of 132-33. Outside hitter Rachel Widener headlines this quartet. Widener was a First Team All-AMC selection in 1998 and ranks fourth on the Lady Cougars' career kills list.
Middle hitter Jessica Huffaker was a Second Team All-AMC selection in 1998 and ranks tenth in career blocks at MVNC. Setter Becky Jefferys ranks fourth in career assists, and outside hitter Amber Rice is seventh in career digs.
Middle hitter Scarlett Habrun and outside hitter Amy Shearrow make up the Lady Cougars' junior class. Habrun was second on the team in 1998 in blocks per game, while Shearrow set a single-season school record with with a 98.9 serving percentage.
One of the best recruiting classes in MVNC history returns for their sophomore season after an outstanding rookie campaign. Middle hitter Amanda Schumm and outside hitter Darcee Hoberg were each named to the AMC All-Freshmen Team, while setter Andrea Rudd and outside hitter Deanna Stayman both saw plenty of action.
Swanson has also landed two quality freshmen recruits to round out the 1999 roster. Middle hitter Katie Zipf was a First Team All-Conference selection at Big Walnut High School, while outside hitter Mary Jo Porter was a two-time First Team All-Conference choice at First Baptist Christian School.
"I am excited about the challenge before us," said Swanson, who has posted a 495-190 record (.723 winning percentage) in fifteen seasons as the Lady Cougars' head coach. "We are versatile and deep with lots of lineup options. We will need to develop into a ball control and intelligent team in order to compete for the AMC title."
"I like the competitive makeup of our team and I am looking forward to helping them progress through the season," Swanson added. "We are very balanced by positions, personalities, and experience. I think that this will make for a great experience for the players."
Besides playing in the tough AMC and trying to defend their regular-season and conference tournament title, MVNC will play in four regular-season tournaments and will host the 1999 NCCAA East Region Tournament. The Lady Cougars will also be looking to advance to both the NAIA Region IX Tournament and the NCCAA National Tournament.
MVNC, who is ranked 30th in the NAIA national preseason poll, will open the 1999 season at the University of Michigan-Dearborn Tournament on Friday and Saturday. The Lady Cougars will face Rochester (MI) College at 6:00 p.m. on Friday followed by an 8:00 p.m. match against Spring Arbor (MI) College. The two-day, nine-team tournament will conclude with two matches on Saturday with the opponents to be determined by Friday's results.