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August 25 - BETHANY, W.Va. – A year after having 10 freshmen among their 14 players, the Bethany volleyball team will once again carry an extremely youthful roster into the season, which will open Sept. 2 with a road match at Franciscan.

While the Bison will have 11 more first-year players on the team in 2009, the difference this season is they are joined by six sophomores and one junior who all gained valuable experience during a 5-24 campaign last year. That record is somewhat deceiving in that seven of BC’s setbacks came in five-set battles that just went against the Bison at the end.

Head coach Courtney Kline is in her third season at the helm and although there isn’t a truly seasoned veteran among her players, she says the returners have stepped up during preseason.

“One of our goals this season is to develop real leaders and without a senior and only one junior, we need sophomores and even freshmen to step up,” said Kline. “But Sarah Olson (the lone junior) has taken charge of team activities and all of the returners have helped set a precedent. The freshmen truly look up to the upperclassmen and they know they can’t slack off even a little in practice or they will be held accountable. I don’t even need to correct as much anymore because the returners do a lot of that for me.
“And I believe a lot of that is why our practices are going so well in the preseason,” said Kline. “They are very competitive because everyone is fighting for time and there are at least two players for every position. The skill level is very similar, so we see changes day-to-day in who is playing better. There has also been a good energy level, mostly coming from the returning players, and it’s contagious, which helps keep everyone going.”

The competition for time starts in the middle of the action, where Kline has a sophomore and freshman competing at setter. Sophomore Megan Hoffman (Cambridge, Ohio/John Glenn) passed out 796 assists last year, eighth-most in Bison single-season history, but she is being pushed by freshman Jessica Zavatchen (Uniontown, Pa./Laurel Highlands) and the outcome may result in Bethany changing their offense this year.
“Megan and Jessica are fighting it out at setter and bring different things to the table,” said Kline. “They are both very skilled but we’re looking for the better leader. We’re not sure what offense we’re going to run this season, as we may change from one setter to two depending on how they both continue to develop.”

According to Kline, a main key to the year will be how well the defensive specialists play. The returning players include sophomore Tiffany Hoffman (Cambridge, Ohio/John Glenn), who totaled a team-best 449 digs last year at the libero position, while Sarah Olson (Rices Landing, Pa./Jefferson-Morgan) finished with 213 digs and 21 aces. Freshmen trying to play their way into action include Katie Kurtz (Charleroi, Pa.), Emily Mahon (East Liverpool, Ohio), Shannan Orum (Wheeling, W.Va./Wheeling Park) and Sarah Slagle (North Canton, Ohio/Perry).

“Our season will depend a lot on what our defense can do,” said Kline. “We’ve been passing pretty well early on and we need to continue to improve because passing will be the key to our success. We have a lot of skill back there, but Tiffany, both Sarahs and Katie have stood out because they are leaving everything out there every practice trying to earn time.”

Bethany brings a stable of outside hitters into the year, including a trio of sophomores. Back after leading the team with 293 kills and earning Honorable Mention All-PAC is Courtney Meadows (Canton, Ohio/McKinley), while Alyssa Schrecengost (Wexford, Pa./Vincentian), who was second with 213 kills and first with 38 service aces, and Nancy Hitt (Export, Pa./Greensburg Central Catholic), who had 31 kills in 17 matches last year, also return. Four newcomers are in the mix for time as well in Taylor Cassidy (Barboursville, W.Va.), Slagle, Kurtz and Mahon.

“We have a lot of different players competing for time on the outside,” said Kline. “There are some players who also can play other spots, as Taylor can play just about anywhere and Emily and Katie will primarily play defense, so it’s nice to have that kind of depth. But we still need improvement in consistency and defense from the outside. Everyone is progressing very nicely and is very close in skill, so we see different people stepping up every day.”

The right side will be all freshmen for Kline this season, as Cassidy, Bethany Dawson (Uniontown, Ohio/Lake), Lauren Goodwill (Canton, Ohio/Jackson) and Janae McGinnis (Huntingdon, Pa.) are having a spirited battle in preseason to get on the floor during the year.

“Lauren is left-handed, so that gives her a little advantage, but we like the potential from the right side so far,” said Kline. “We have a lot of height, some good athleticism and we anticipate a big block on the right side this year, as well as help in balancing our attack.”

One upperclass player returns at the middle blocker spot in sophomore Carrie Talkington (Moundsville, W.Va./John Marshall), who is the top returning player with 53 blocks last year and has developed a great deal from her freshman season according to her coach. In addition, freshmen Meredith Holl (Mogadore, Ohio), McGinnis and Amanda Rodabaugh (Elizabeth, Pa./Elizabeth Forward) have impressed in the early going.

“I am really pleased with the progress Carrie has made” said Kline. “She has become a different player, more dominating and taken a more verbal leadership role. Meredith is a stronger attacker, Amanda is a better blocker and Janae is solid too, so we may go on a game-to-game basis to see the match-ups with other teams to determine who will play more.”

From the first day she took over the Bethany program, Kline has never set a certain number of wins for a goal and this year is no different. She wants to see improvement and this group begin to build a tradition of expecting to compete and win for the volleyball program, and that will lead to the achievement of their top goal for this year, which is reach the PAC Tournament and compete for a conference crown.

“Our top goal is to reach the conference playoffs and be a contender for the title, which I believe is very doable,” said Kline. “A lot of PAC teams are in the same boat we are in having to play a lot of younger players. The difference for us is our sophomores played a lot last year in almost a baptism by fire and we’re better for it.

“Our other goals for this year, aside from developing leaders, are to improve and start setting a tradition that Bethany volleyball will be a contender every year,” said Kline. “The players have bought into starting to build the program up and their hard work this past offseason and this year is going to make a huge difference in how far we go as a program in the coming years.”