(Neb.)- Eagle Volleyball Enters 2017 With Confidence
CHADRON, Neb. -- When second-year Head Volleyball Coach Riann Mullis arrived at Chadron State in May of 2016, she knew there was plenty of work to be done in order to compete in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference. She anticipated a tough road ahead in terms of installing a new system, recruiting "program" players, and changing the culture of Eagle volleyball.
Now more than a full calendar year into the task, the volleyball program enters 2017 with a little more confidence and a core group of players who have learned how to compete and improve elements of their game as the season progresses.
"We set a foundation in 2016," said Mullis. "Whomever we have returning from last year has caught on, and bought in fully. Now we're moving forward, focusing on competitiveness, and that should translate into more wins. I'm looking forward to seeing them continue to progress."
The returners are balanced among classes and include two seniors, three juniors, and three sophomores.
Seniors Gaby Varela, a 6-1 hitter, and Emily Bruce, a 5-6 libero, will be looked to for leadership. Varela is now in her fourth year at CSC after one season playing for Western Nebraska Community College. She is the team's leading offensive weapon returning after the graduation of last year's senior class which includedRudy Leasau, Alia Brennan, and Stephanie Wilson. Bruce is in her second year with the program after coming in as one of Mullis's first recruits from Fort Scott Community College in Kansas.
Also playing a leadership role, on and off the court, are two junior setters. Madison Webb is a two-year starter at setter, and has emerged as one of the RMAC's best. Mickey Trimble joined the team at semester in 2016-17, after leading the NJCAA in assists per set as a sophomore at Fort Scott and a one-time junior college teammate of Bruce's. Both setters were voted team captains for the spring portion of training. Mullis described Trimble as having "natural leadership abilities" and "good experience" at one of the top junior college programs.
The other junior is 5-9 Dominika Senkerikova, an international student from the Czech Republic. Dominika was a prized recruit of Mullis's last season, but lacked the punch the Eagles were looking for at the right side hitter position after an early-season ankle injury sidelined her for most of the year. She was reportedly back to her full explosiveness by the end of spring and should make up for some of the lost production on offense.
Filling out the returning roster are sophomores Katie Thoeny, Ashton Burditt, and Timmi Keisel. Thoeny, a 5-7 defensive specialist, was also injured most of 2016, and offseason surgery handicapped her in the spring, but Mullis said she used the opportunity to take mental reps, and her biggest assets will be the insight she gained from the sideline and the perspective of her coaches. After competing as a setter her freshman year, 5-7 Ashton Burditt makes a move to defense in 2017. Mullis praised her athleticism and her attitude in making the position change for the team. Keisel is a 5-11 middle in her third season as an Eagle, after redshirting in 2015. Mullis said Keisel made the most growth of any player in the spring and is now among the most consistent players.
Two newcomers to watch are junior transfers Keshia Ellwanger and Aijahnae Springs. Both are tall hitters with big time experience in the juco ranks. Ellwanger, a 6-1 impact player, was named All-Region for 2016 and helped her Central Community College squad, in Columbus, Nebraska, to a regional title with 3.17 kills per set and a noteworthy .270 hitting percentage. The 5-10 Springs, another All-Region selection, ranked second in her region with 3.49 kills per set and fourth with 380 total kills at McCook Community College.
Other incoming junior transfers who could compete for playing time immediately are Andria Dowell andMegan Chintala. Dowell is a 5-9 hitter whom Mullis coached against at her former school, coming from Allen County Community College in Iola, Kansas. Mullis liked Dowell's strength and energy and said she will be "exciting to watch". Her 3.43 kills per set and 3.81 digs per set in two seasons at Allen give her a career "double-double" average, and she was an All-Conference honorable mention selection in 2016. Chintala, a 5-3 defensive specialist will give the Eagles more consistency in serve-receive passing in Mullis's ball control system. Chintala was an All-Region selection at North Platte Community College in 2015, and is seventh all-time in career digs at NPCC. She played alongside Keisel at Fleming High in Colorado.
A fifth junior transfer, 5-11 hitter Shelby Schouten, comes to CSC from Des Moines Area Community College, but will likely sit this season due to NCAA transfer eligibility rules.
Also joining the team for the fall but unable to compete will be Chandler Hageman, who led Chadron High to a third-place finish at state, before enrolling for 2016-17 at Black Hills State University.
Four true freshmen will be added to the roster as well. Megan Godsey, from Wray, Colorado, is a 5-8 hitter who made All-State in 2016 and was a two-time state triple jump champ. McKenna Hartigan, at 6-0 will provide height in the middle of the net. She is a Colorado First Team All-Stater from Paonia High. Another 6-0 middle, Carrie Jones, made all-conference at Broken Bow High. Finally, legacy player Karli Noble brings a ton of athleticism, played both offense and defense in high school, and projects as a 5-5 libero in college. Her father, Scott, is a former CSC coach and is currently athletic director at Laramie County Community College, while her mother, then Debbie Spickelmier, was a four-time All-America middle distance runner at CSC.
"Our players returning have a good attitude," said Mullis, "and one of our main strengths this year should be ball control. What we need to do now is build off our base, bring the newcomers along, and learn and grow in a positive way."
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