Competing in a conference with two of the top volleyball programs in the country, the Spartans had nothing to scoff at last year with their 20-win season. However, the team is not looking to simply settle for a winning record again.
After a 21-10 record a year ago, Head Coach Karen Farrell has even bigger expectations for the Case Western Reserve University volleyball team this year, including a bid to the NCAA tournament. The team features strengths at a variety of positions while still being young, returning a strong class of second-year players and bringing in a class of new players that could play a major role in the team’s success.
“We return three of our top five attackers and our entire defensive core from last year,” said Coach Farrell, including last year’s Rookie of the Year in the University Athletic Association (UAA), Haley Sims.
Sims will try to improve her game this year, especially mentally. She stated that she has better ball placement and that she has a better feel for the court. Joining her near the net are fellow second-year hitters Brianna Lemon, who led the team in kills last year, and Karley King, another key cog in the attack.
On the defensive side, the Spartans boast a strong class of third-year players, including defensive specialists Karina Bondelid, Emily Wolfenbarger and Noel Jeansonne, three players who all averaged at least two digs per set last season. However, depth will play a huge role in the team’s success this year.
“Rather than a few key players, we have a strong bench,” Sims asserted.”All teammates are able to jump into the game at any point necessary and make adjustments in order to be competitive.” Farrell corroborates Sims’ point, describing the team as “versatile.”
Emma Briggs is the sole fourth-year player and captain for the Spartans this year. Farrell raved about Briggs’ leadership, saying she is “a true servant leader” and someone who “will ask as much from her teammates as she does from herself.”
Briggs admitted that she feels some pressure to have the same effect on this team that her captains had on her. As for her role as captain, Briggs is ready for the challenge.
“As the captain, my role on the team is to play to the best of my ability and to encourage the rest of the team to do the same, as well as promote an environment that supports team and individual growth,” she stated with confidence.
Chemistry is always a necessity in team sports and, according to Sims, is already better for the team this year compared to last year. Communication has improved both on and off the court and should help the team accumulate more wins, especially in those games that come down to the wire. Briggs also said that this year’s team is “meshing well both on and off the court,” a statement that carries even more weight when coming from a four-year player.
The team faces a tough schedule that opens up with the Ohio Northern University Tournament on Sept. 1 and 2, and later in the year includes two of the top three teams ranked nationally, in-conference foes Washington University in St. Louis and Emory University. Farrell wants to limit mistakes and be smarter as a team in order to match up with these top teams.
Look out for the CWRU volleyball team to make waves this year in the UAA. Bringing back many players from last year, adding in talented new players and forming great chemistry will contribute to another winning season and hopefully a berth in the NCAA tournament. When attending a game, be prepared for a team that, in Sims’ words, is “fierce and cohesive” in its play.
The Spartans’ first action at home takes place from Sept. 8-9 as part of the Marcia French Memorial Invitational.