5/2: BASE at Wash. & Jeff. (L 9-2); 5/6: SB vs #1 Westminster (12 PM), T&F at Slippery Rock (TBA), BASE vs Thiel (4 PM); 4/7: BASE at Thiel - DH (1 PM)
Bethany Aiming to Finish Run at PAC Volleyball Title in 2012
Aug. 17 - BETHANY, W.Va. – Coming off the program’s top finish ever in a PAC Tournament, a second consecutive ECAC championship and a school-record for victories, the Bethany College volleyball team brings high hopes and lofty goals into the 2012 season.
Last year saw the Bison build off the momentum from an ECAC crown in 2010, as the Green and White advanced to the PAC Tournament championship match, but were denied their first-ever league title by Geneva. After missing out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, Bethany went back to ECACs and cruised to a second straight championship and in the process, set a new record for single-season wins with a 31-6 record.
While the team was excited with their second ECAC crown, falling short of the PAC title and NCAA appearance last year left a feeling of unfinished business with the Bison. Head coach Courtney Kline, now entering her sixth year at the helm of the team, says that feeling was a motivating factor during the off-season, especially for the five seniors entering their final year.
“The seniors have all been key players who have seen a lot time on the court and they understand how hard past players have worked towards their goals,” said Kline, who has 84 wins in her five seasons. “Falling short last year motivated the girls to work even harder in the off-season. Because we lost four outstanding seniors (Jessica Cole, Carrie Talkington, Megan & Tiffany Hoffman, who combined for five All-PAC and two Academic All-American awards), we really concentrated on leadership in the offseason. Our two captains this year Jessica Zavatchen (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) and Taylor Cassidy (Barboursville, W.Va./Cabell Midland), along with the other seniors, really enforced the focus on working hard.
“I think due to the seniors’ efforts, the spring season was very successful in improving our strength, jumping ability and skills, which was critical because our line-up will look significantly different than last year,” said Kline.
One of those captains will look to continue her record-breaking career at Bethany. Zavatchen returns for her fourth year as the starting setter and has nearly run out of individual records to break. She already owns the career assists mark at the school with 3,849 and reset her own single-season record last year with 1,468. In addition to being a three-time All-PAC selection, including First Team honors last fall, Zavatchen was also a First Team Academic All-American last year and her return gives the Bison a big boost this year.
“Jess has come to be the quarterback of our team and a huge part of the heart of the program,” said Kline. “She’s not the most vocal player, but the other girls see how hard she works and they want to match that effort. She’s worked very hard to develop parts of her game we’ve talked about over the years, like being more offensive and speeding up the offense, and she’s done an excellent job with that. I feel very confident knowing that Jess will be leading us again this year.”
Another BC senior will head up the right-side attack in Lauren Goodwill (Canton, Ohio/Jackson). A two-time All-PAC selection who ranks 11th at Bethany with 706 career kills, she was third on the team with 242 last season and brings a stabilizing presence to the floor. Also on the right-side is sophomore Amanda Peters (Bloomdale, Ohio/Elmwood), who saw limited action last year but has worked hard in the off-season.
“Lauren brings ball control and consistency,” said Kline. “She has improved in her blocking and being more vocal, but we want her to start being more aggressive on her swings. But she is a very consistent player. Amanda’s ability has been steadily growing and she is making huge strides. She needs to relax a little and become more vocal, but she’s improved quite a bit.”
The Bison will have to find a new middle blocker after losing Talkington, who led the PAC in kills last year (452) and ranked third all-time at Bethany (1,161). But Kline believes she has someone with the ability to fill those shoes in Breana Harris (Severn, Md./Old Mill). The 6-0 sophomore posted 173 kills in her first year, as well as a .316 hitting percentage. Also back to provide a veteran presence is senior Meredith Holl (Mogadore, Ohio), who has 426 career kills to her credit, and sophomore Megan Beebe (Irondale, Ohio/Indian Creek), who saw time in eight matches last year.
“Losing Carrie is tough, but I believe Breana has the ability to be the most dominating middle in the PAC,” said Kline. “She significantly improved her vertical and is faster running plays and getting to the block. We just need her to become more confident and aggressive. Meredith brings a very strong attack and has quick feet. She can be a real asset to the offense. Megan improved this past spring, especially with her block getting quicker and being more efficient.”
The BC outside hitter position has four returners, including Cassidy, who was named Honorable Mention All-PAC last year, as well as the Most Outstanding Player of the ECAC Tournament. With 748 career kills, already ninth most in Bison history, she has become one of the top hitters in the conference. A slew of talented underclassmen are also back, including junior Arielle Elsass (Canton, Ohio/Jackson), who had 29 kills last year, and sophomores Jordan Fenner (Westerville, Ohio/Westerville North), who had 159 kills, and Lynsie Mandt (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne), who put away 82.
“Taylor just breathes Bethany volleyball,” said Kline. “She is a huge motivator, not only by working hard at practice but also being a vocal leader. She grew so much as a player during last year and was unstoppable by the end. She improved a lot defensively as well and became a go-to player, which is a role we expect her to keep this year.
“Arielle is very quick, agile and powerful,” said Kline. “She worked hard, not only on jumping, but also on speed and strength, which was very visible in the spring. Lynsie brings a great deal of consistency. She can be a very smart player who can hit a variety of shots and is improving defensively as well. Jordan is an extremely athletic outside hitter who touches the ball at its high point. The main thing she needs to improve is her aggressiveness on the court, but she has the ability to be a dominating hitter.”
While the Bison offense looks to be in good shape, the back row will have to overcome the loss of the Hoffman twins. Tiffany (second with 2,313) and Megan (12th with 1,002) both went over 1,000 career digs and were ranked in the top 10 in school history in aces.
The cupboard is far from bare however, as four players are back and all have the ability to step in to anchor the defense according to Kline. Senior Katie Kurtz (Charleroi, Pa.) has the most experience with 366 career digs and she also has 75 career aces. Junior Chelsea Sroka (Elizabeth, Pa./Elizabeth Forward) will be able to spend all of this year on the defensive side after working as the back-up setter, while sophomore sister Kristen Sroka and sophomore Kelly Becquet (Finleyville, Pa./Ringgold) both showed a lot of promise in their first year.
“Katie has a ton of ball control and is a very good serve-receive passer,” said Kline. “In addition to having a big serve, she is also working on getting faster. Chelsea has been playing the role of second setter, but with a freshman setter coming in, that will allow her to focus solely on defense, which is good for her and the team. She’s been working on foot speed and reading the hitter better
“Kristen is an ideal defensive player in that she has very fast feet and being very tall and long, it allows her to get to more balls,” said Kline. “Kelly is a very fast, agile defensive player who has a great deal of ability. She needs to work on being louder and more of a defensive leader.”
Although she brought back a good amount of talent, Kline was still busy on the recruiting trails and has seven new players on the roster to mesh with the veterans. In addition to a freshman setter in Emily Crawford (Wooster, Ohio), the Bison will also have a couple new players in the back row in freshmen Paige Bragg (Huron, Ohio) and Haley Ekaitis (White Oak, Pa./McKeesport). Adding to the depth up front will be freshman Julia Mouch (Toledo, Ohio/Sylvania Southview), Devin Unger (Chillicothe, Ohio/Zane Trace), Jolyn Ullom (Claysville, Pa./McGuffey) and Christina Schamp (Jefferson, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan).
“I think this recruiting class brings a lot of diverse skills to the program and they all have potential,” said Kline. “Julia definitely has a chance to contribute right away as an outside hitter and also has defensive experience, so she could help shore up the back row. Emily is an incoming setter and we are looking for her to learn and improve a lot through the season. Devin played a wide variety of positions, but we see her settling into either an outside hitter role or setter.
“We think Paige can contribute in the back row, as she played at a high level of volleyball,” said Kline. “She comes from a successful high school and club background and is very focused. Haley has played in the back and at outside hitter and while we’re looking for her to mainly play defense, we like that she can hit too. I am impressed with Jolyn’s desire to succeed and know she will be motivated to get better every day. She’ll most likely be in the middle or on right-side, but we’ll make that decision in preseason. At 6-2, Christina brings great size and has a lot of potential and will also settle in either at middle blocker or on the right.”
In order to better prepare her squad to make a charge to the PAC Championship, Kline has beefed up the non-conference schedule and the Bison will be tested right out of the gate. They open the year at the Capital Tournament Aug. 31-Sept. 1. After playing Capital (20-12 last year) and Transylvania (19-11) on the opening day, Bethany will square off with Otterbein, who was 26-6 and first among teams receiving votes in the AVCA Preseason Top 25 poll, on the 1st. That will be followed by a match-up against #18 Mount Union, who was 25-8 a season ago, so the early part of the schedule will be a barometer for where Bethany stands.
“We open up the year at the Capital Tournament, which is an honor because we were invited to play,” said Kline. “We will play four very good teams while we’re there, including a couple ranked in the AVCA poll, so it will be a challenge for us. We follow that by playing at the Hanover Tournament the next weekend, which also features some good teams. We really wanted to get ready for the very competitive PAC schedule and playing those types of teams will be a good test for us.”
If the Bison are to finish the journey this season and claim their first PAC championship in program history, Kline says the team will need to come together quickly and it will be up to the seniors to make that happen. If that occurs as quickly as the Bison coach hopes and everyone gets on the same page early, then it could be a fun season on the court.
“We need the seniors to step up immediately and take control as leaders,” said Kline. “The spring allowed them to start that process and begin to get used to playing without Carrie, Tiffany and Megan for the first time, but they really need to get comfortable right away being the leaders and the go-to players on the court. At the same time, the underclassmen are also going to have to step up right away as well. There won’t be time to get acclimated and we want to get better from day one.
“Overall, this group of girls is special,” said Kline. “They get along on and off the court, but the key will be how quickly they gel as a team. Everyday they will have to come to practice with a goal in mind and work as hard as they can to reach that goal. Individual goals are fine, but ultimately the team goal of winning the PAC is the most important. We have the talent, but we have to reach our potential to achieve our goals and that means pushing the limits of our capabilities to get where we need to be.”