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Aug. 24 - BETHANY, W.Va. – New head coach Courtney Kline will have six returners and eight newcomers to work with in her first year at the helm, as the Bethany College volleyball program will be trying to improve upon last year’s finish and move towards the top of the PAC.

The Bison’s season begins August 31 when they play Transylvania (Ky.) University on the first day of the Ohio Wesleyan Tournament. Bethany’s first home match won’t come until Sept. 17 when they host Franciscan (Ohio) University.

Kline’s first training camp has been marred by injuries but she’s been happy with some of the early strides she’s seen her team make.

“We are battling through a lot of injuries but overall, we’re getting a lot better,” said Kline, who came to Bethany following two successful years at Penn State-Fayette. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I’ve seen some major improvements so far. Once everyone comes back healthy, hopefully everything will come together.”

The key component to the Bison’s attack this season will be senior outside hitter Lauren Spegal (Bethel Park, Pa.). A three-time Second Team All-PAC selection, Spegal is ranked fifth at Bethany with 896 career kills and needs 302 to surpass Kelly Sitko for the all-time record at the school. A solid all-around player, Spegal could also crack Bethany’s all-time top 10 in aces and digs by the end of the season.

Other outside hitters for the Bison this season include freshmen Emily Stewart (Latrobe, Pa./Greater Latrobe), who has performed well in camp, and Manda Myers (Houston, Pa./Chartiers-Houston), sophomore Kayla Pavlik (Gibsonia, Pa./Deer Lakes), junior Mandy Kaufman (Glen Dale, W.Va./John Marshall) and senior Michelle Fowler (Mather, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan).

“Lauren is going to be our big hitter this year,” said Kline. “She’s a very steady, consistent player, which has been big while we learn. She’s also a great passer and we will look to her to be the all-around team leader.

“Another player who has performed well so far is Emily,” said Kline. “She’s a strong outside hitter, but is versatile as well.”

In the middle, junior Sumer Scott (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) returns after leading Bethany with 55 blocks a year ago, while freshman Brittani Hall (Magnolia, Ohio/Sandy Valley) is also expected to see time this season, whether it’s in the middle or on the outside.

“Our middle hitters will include Sumer, who played a lot last year, and Brittani, who will contribute somewhere along the front row, depending upon where we need her,” said Kline.

The deepest part of the Bison team is setter, as junior Kim McKay (Pittsburgh, Pa./North Hills) returns after starting all of last year and compiling 714 assists, eighth-most in Bethany single-season history. She’s really caught Kline’s attention with her play so far.

“Kim has really impressed me with her work ethic and great attitude,” said Kline, “Even though she’s been injured, she stays on the court and has shown tremendous leadership skills. Usually those don’t come out until someone’s senior year, but Kim’s really stepping into that role a year early.”

Another setter who is playing well is in her first year at Bethany but is familiar with Kline. Sophomore Rachael Dunham (Gans, Pa./Albert Gallatin) played at Penn State-Fayette last season but her performance since transferring to Bethany has surprised even Kline.

“Even though I’ve seen Rachael play a lot, she’s stepped it up considerably this year,” said Kline. “She’s come in like she really has something to prove and is playing 10 times better than I’ve seen play before.”

A pair of freshmen setters are also in the mix for playing time in Hillary Laughner (New Galilee, Pa./Mohawk) and Lindsay Olson (Rices Landing, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan).

If Olson doesn’t earn time at setter, she, along with her twin sister Sarah Olson (Rices Landing, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan), are expected to play quite a bit in the back row. They are battling with junior Melissa Fraleigh (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall) for the libero spot, which is still up for grabs.

“As of now, the libero spot is still open, but we have a good competition going so far,” said Kline. “Both Lindsay and Sarah have impressed me and I look for them to play strong defense all year.”

The Bison finished 7-21 last year and in seventh place in the PAC, so it’s easy for the program to strive to surpass those numbers for this year. However, although Kline wants to pile up as many wins as she can, she sees this year as being step one in building the program for the future.

“My main goal early on is to see what I have,” said Kline. “I want us to be competitive, earn more conference wins and possibly surprise some people. But my main objective right now is for us to see every game of every match as its own and not worry about anything else. If w can do that, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

“I said when I first got this job that I didn’t want to think of success this season in terms of winning percentage,” said Kline. “I want to win as much as anybody, but this year is also about building the program. I hope leaders can develop from this group for upcoming seasons and set the stage for the future.”