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Aug. 17 - BETHANY, W.Va. – While the Bethany College volleyball team enjoyed its most successful season last fall, which included a 24-13 record and its first-ever postseason appearance resulting in the ECAC South Region Tournament championship, the aspirations for the 2011 season, which starts Sept. 2 at the Haverford (Pa.) College Tournament, are even higher.

That’s because fifth-year head coach Courtney Kline not only brings back 12 returners from last year’s ECAC championship squad, she also welcomes a deep and talented freshmen class to campus. The excitement of last season’s success is serving as a springboard for this year’s team according to Kline.

“Winning the last game to win ECAC’s was a real turning point for the program and only motivated the team to work harder in the offseason,” said Kline. “It gave them confidence and now they understand they have the ability to win any game they put their minds to. We’ve had the talent but now we have the confidence and we used it to have the best spring we’ve ever had by far.”

Leading the returning players is senior middle blocker Carrie Talkington (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall). In addition to earning Second Team All-PAC, she was named the MVP of the ECAC Tournament and finished the year with 419 kills, second-most in Bethany single-season history. In addition, she was strong at the net defensively with 165 total blocks. Also seeing time at middle blocker is junior Meredith Holl (Mogadore, Ohio), who amassed 226 kills and 74 total blocks a season ago.

“Carrie is coming off her best season and her progress between her sophomore and junior seasons was absolutely amazing,” said Kline. “She has always had the talent but her confidence really emerged and that was a big reason her play improved so much. We really look for her to lead us offensively and defensively, where her blocking at the net also improved. Meredith came alive at the end of last year and had a great match in the ECAC final against Saint Vincent. She really stepped up when we needed her and are looking for her to continue improving and have another good year.”

The Bethany attack will be triggered by junior Jessica Zavatchen (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands), who is in her third season as the starting setter. The Honorable Mention All-PAC choice obliterated her single-season school record for assists with 1,392 and needs just 255 more to break the career assists mark. An extremely versatile player, Zavatchen also brought up 297 digs and ranked second on the team with 81 blocks. Backing up Zavatchen will be senior Megan Hoffman (Cambridge, Ohio/John Glenn) and sophomore Chelsea Sroka (Elizabeth, Pa./Elizabeth Forward).

“Jessica has had two very strong seasons and is a real natural athlete and leader,” said Kline. “Defensively, she is a really strong force at the net and we look for her to continue to take control and even improve the speed of our offense this year.”

In addition to Talkington in the front row, the Bison boast a solid contingent of outside hitters and right-side attackers. The top threat from the right side is junior Lauren Goodwill (Canton, Ohio/Jackson), who pounded down 270 kills, added 65 blocks up front and picked up Honorable Mention All-PAC status.

A pair of heavy contributors from last year highlights the outside hitters, with a sophomore emerging quickly to provide quality time. Senior Jessica Cole (Connellsville, Pa.) plays all over the floor, as evidenced by 252 kills and 406 digs, while junior Taylor Cassidy (Barboursville, W.Va./Cabell Midland) developed as a consistent threat at the net with 322 kills. Sophomore Arielle Elsass (Canton, Ohio/Jackson) has worked hard in the offseason and is a candidate for the outside hitter position as well.

“Lauren worked really hard in the offseason, is in great shape and improved her vertical,” said Kline. “She brings a strong block on the right side and being a lefty, brings a good attack as well.

“Jessica played both front and back row last year and in addition to playing very strong defense, also brought a lot of ball control to the court,” said Kline. “Last year was Taylor’s first time seeing a lot of action and she grew more comfortable by the end of the year. She had a really good spring and is gaining more ball control to go along with her height and athleticism. Arielle is an extremely athletic player who improved a lot in the spring. She jumps very well and should be contending for time.”

The Bison back row should be very deep with a lot of experienced players. Seniors Tiffany and Megan Hoffman (Cambridge, Ohio/John Glenn) are back to lead the defensive charges. Tiffany is a two-time All-PAC selection who is ranked fourth in Bethany history in career digs (1,618). Megan’s skills as a setter are very useful when she’s playing in the back and she totaled 356 digs last season.

Also returning is junior Katie Kurtz (Charleroi, Pa.), who led the team with 37 aces last season, while junior Susan Pollins (Pittsburgh, Pa./Seton-LaSalle) and Sroka will also be in the mix for time.

“Tiffany has steadily improved every year and is an extremely hard worker and focused player,” said Kline. “We are very confident in her ability as a libero. Megan played a lot at right back last year and has become much more consistent on serve receive. Also a setter, Megan helps a lot on ball control when Jess (Zavatchen) has to pass.

“Katie played mostly middle back last year and we expect her to stay with that position,” said Kline. “She brings strong passing skills and has a very tough serve which can generate points for us. Chelsea has been a back-up setter but started working on defense as well and is making great strides. We look for her to contend for time at right or middle back. Susan has played at left and middle back and we look for her to stay at those positions as well.”

The freshmen class that Bethany has coming to campus is a well-rounded group with players for nearly every position and the amount of players coming in will allow the Bison to run a Reserve team schedule for the first time in the program’s history. The defensive specialists coming in include Kelly Becquet (Finleyville, Pa./Ringgold), Carly Lucas (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall) and Kristen Sroka (Elizabeth, Pa./Elizabeth Forward), who can also play outside hitter.     

Those who can play right side including Megan Beebe (Irondale, Ohio/Indian Creek), who can also play middle blocker, and Gena Keebler (Perryopolis, Pa./Frazier), while the outside hitters are Jordan Fenner (Westerville, Ohio/Westerville North), Lynsie Mandt (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne), Amanda Peters (Bloomdale, Ohio/Elmwood), who may also play middle blocker, and Shawna Whitehead (The Plains, Ohio/Athens).

Rounding out the newcomers are the middle blockers, including Breana Harris (Severn, Md./Old Mill), Ashley Kimble (New Matamores, Ohio/Frontier) and Allison Snyder (Newcomerstown, Ohio).

“We are fortunate to have a very talented class coming in and they will be a big part of the future of the program,” said Kline. “Bringing in so many will allow us to have a Reserve or a White team schedule as we’ll call it and allow the newcomers to develop and prepare for their future roles with the program. We are very balanced in all the positions we recruited. They will create competition to earn court time and not only be pushing each other, but also the veterans.”

The team goals for the year include going farther in the PAC Tournament then Bethany ever has, but also includes milestones on coming together as a group and helping everyone with the program reach their potential, which will ultimately help the team achieve its goals.

“We have the same goal every year to just keep improving from the year before,” said Kline. “We also want to come together as a team, play well on the court, be close off of it and represent the College well on and off the floor.

“But we have other very high goals of making it to the Final Four of the PAC Tournament after losing in the first round the last two years and ultimately competing for the PAC championship,” said Kline. “We feel we have the talent and if we can reach our potential, achieving our goals is definitely possible.”