Nov. 7 – BETHANY, W. Va. – For the first time in the tenure of head coach Courtney Kline, the Bethany College women’s volleyball program will host the Presidents’ Athletic Conference Championships on Friday and Saturday, November 8 & 9.
Bethany earned the overall, number-one seed following a stellar season in which the Bison put together a 27-9 record, and a 17-1 mark in the PAC. During the course of the year the Bison also became the first team in the history of the PAC to start the season a perfect, 17-0, in conference play.
“It’s really an honor to be able to host the conference championships,” remarked Kline of the opportunity to play for the title in front of the home fans. “It is something that we strive for every year, and this year we made the dream a reality. A lot of hard work and dedication went into this season, and it was a real treat to see it pay off.”
Perhaps more impressive than a 17-1 conference record, is the way that the Bison accomplished the feat. Having no seniors on the roster, Bethany has just six upperclassmen (three juniors, three sophomores). It has been the arrival of a solid freshmen class that has contributed greatly to the team’s success.
“A lot of the time, teams get freshmen that were very talented in high school but, for whatever reason, just didn’t pan out at the collegiate level,” said Kline. “The great thing about this freshmen class is that they came in ready to play and have since exceeded my expectations.
“We expected all of the girls to get better as the season moved forward, but all of them have worked tirelessly and they have all gone above and beyond to constantly get better as the year has progressed.”
Dylana McKenzie (Hopewell, Ohio/West Muskingum) is one of those freshmen who have made an immediate impact. This season, McKenzie has appeared in 117 of the 126 games and has totaled 284 kills, which ranks fifth in the conference.
“Dylana is a gamer,” remarked Kline of her freshman outside hitter. “There is never a day when she isn’t working as hard as she can. She is always striving to achieve the best in herself and her teammates really respect and respond to the effort that she gives.”
McKenzie has totaled 150 kills against conference opponents and is hitting .219 in her freshman campaign. Overall, she has totaled double-digit kills 11 times on the year with nine of those coming in the last 16 games of the regular season.
Joining McKenzie on the front row are twin sister Dakota McKenzie (Hopewell, Ohio/West Muskingum) and Alexis Castro (Lorain, Ohio/Lorain), who are also both freshmen this season.
Dakota McKenzie fought through some injuries to start the year and has appeared in 25 of the 36, regular-season matches. However, she ranks fourth on the team in total kills, and is closing in on 200 for the year, currently sitting at 191.
“Dakota has been really strong for us after missing some time earlier in the year with injuries,” commented Kline. “She really battled through and things are really starting to click for her. Over the last month of the season, she seems to be firing on all cylinders.”
Castro, who ranks second on the team in total blocks (74) has quickly become one of the team’s vocal and emotional leaders this season. She has appeared in all 36 matches this season and has totaled 144 kills while hitting .219.
“Alexis is going to make a great captain some day for us,” said Coach Kline. “Her leadership ability and the way she is constantly involved in the game is a testament to her hard work and her character.”
Leading the team in most major offensive categories this season, junior Breana Harris (Severn, Md./Old Mill) has continued to be the driving force behind the team for most of the year. Currently second in the PAC in total kills (340) Harris is hitting .287 on the year and has twice cracked 20+ kills. She also leads the team in total blocks, having amassed 109.0 to this point on the season.
“The biggest stride Breana has made this season has been in her ability to lead this team,” said Coach Kline. “With so many freshmen playing ample amount of time, it is a great asset to have an upperclassman who not only leads by example on the court, but off it as well.”
Finding ways to get so many offensive weapons involved is never an easy task, and this year, that task has fallen on sophomore transfer, Mackenzie Lauber (Mansfield, Ohio/Madison Mansfield), who has answered the call impressively.
The multi-faceted Lauber has totaled 1,210 assists in the regular season which ranks her fourth all-time on Bethany’s single-season assists list. To go along with her assist numbers, which lead the PAC, Lauber has also totaled 178 kills and ranks third in the conference in hitting percentage (.313).
“Mackenzie’s ability to attack is a huge asset for the team,” remarked Coach Kline. “She has the ability to keep the defense on their toes and force them to account for her any time she is on the front row.
“In addition, she has been tremendous in helping us speed up our game and keep defenses off balance with her ability to pass the ball.”
For as good as the Bison offense has been this year, the defense may have been the cornerstone of Bethany’s success. The combination of junior Kelly Becquet (Finleyville, Pa./Ringgold), sophomore Julia Mouch (Toledo, Ohio/Sylvania Southview) and freshman Haley Santymire (Clifton, Va./Centreville), as well as sophomore Paige Bragg (Huron, Ohio/Huron), have kept opposing offenses shaking their heads time and time again.
As a unit, the back row for the Bison have helped hold conference opponents to a .110 hitting percentage, which ranks tops in the PAC. Twice this year the Bison have totaled over 90 digs in a match, which included a season-high of 96 against the University of Chicago, who was at the time the #18 team in the country.
Additionally, the Bison have held their opponents under a .100 hitting percentage 16 times over the course of the year, including holding an opponent to a negative hitting percentage in 25 percent of those matches.
“This season, we may have the most talented back row we have ever had in my tenure here at the school,” said Kline. “Mouch has been the cornerstone of the back row, but every player we put out there gives 100% on every play.
“Their ability to pass and set up plays, as well as their willingness to go after every ball, makes us an extremely difficult team to beat. Their effort is contagious and it transfers through the whole team over the course of a game.”
The Bison will open the PAC Championship semi-finals with a match against #4 Westminster, who defeated Saint Vincent College, 3-2, in a quarter-final match on Tuesday. Bethany took both of the regular-season meetings from the Titans with the last match finishing as a 3-2 decision in favor of the Bison.
“Westminster is a very talented squad,” remarked Coach Kline of her opponent. “Coach (Tammy) Swearingen always has her team ready to go and very focused. They control the ball very well and play solid defense. It is going to be a tough match, but we are looking forward to the challenge.”
The other semi-final of the day features #2 Geneva and #3 Thomas More. The Saints come into the contest having defeated #6 Grove City to advance to the semi-finals against a Geneva squad that earned the other bye in the PAC Championship tournament.
The game between the Bison and Titans will start at 6 p.m. with Geneva and Thomas More to follow. The winners of the two matches will meet in the PAC Championship match to be held at 4 p.m. at the Hummel Field House with the winner earning the automatic bid to the NCAA National Championship Tournament.