2014 volleyball season preview

2014 volleyball season preview

By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications

Head Coach: Scott Mattera (27-35, two years)
2013 Record: 17-14 overall; 5-11 GPAC (8th)
Key Returners: Kelsey Dinkel (OH), Paige Getz (OH), Kayla James (DS), Alayna Kavanaugh (S), Jami Nekoliczak (DS), Mariah Schamp (M), Tiegen Skains (RS), Carli Smith (DS), Claire White (OH), Taylor Workman (M)
2013 GPAC All-Conference: Mariah Schamp (second team), Carli Smith (honorable mention), Claire White (honorable mention)

In its season-ending match of 2013, Concordia won the first set while putting a scare into eventual GPAC tournament champion and then sixth-ranked Midland. While the loss eliminated the Bulldogs from the conference playoff, it spoke volumes about how far the program had come in a short time. The 2013 campaign brought seven more victories than the previous season, the program’s first winning season since 2007 and a host of newcomers appeared to hit their stride in the middle of the year.

With every key contributor from a year ago back in the fold (consider that 10 of the 28 first or second team all-GPAC players were seniors in 2013), the expectation is that the Bulldogs will take another leap forward this fall.

“The way we ended our season really left us with a hunger,” Mattera said. “It wasn’t really a bad taste because we played really well against a team that finished top 10 in the country. We had a glimpse of what we’re capable of going forward and it really built into some cool stuff into the spring. We committed to do workouts at 6 a.m. in kind of a shared suffering. Some people had some real breakthroughs not just physically but also on the mental side of things.”

It’s easy to get excited when you return a potent outside hitting duo of junior Claire White and sophomore Paige Getz (one of four teammate duos in the GPAC to both post 300-plus kills), a blossoming star sophomore setter in Alayna Kavanaugh and athletic middles like senior Mariah Schamp (second team all-GPAC in 2013) and sophomore Taylor Workman.

There’s also senior leadership in spades with defensive specialists Carli Smith (second team all-conference in 2012), Kayla James, Jami Nekoliczak and right side Amanda Abbott (returning from injury) in addition to Schamp.

“The depth at each position this year is beyond anything we’ve ever had and there’s going to be a lot of competition,” Mattera said. “Funny enough, I don’t know what it’s going to look like. We’ve got a lot of returners but my goodness, everybody’s been working and some people have really made some strides. There are some new kids who will compete.”

One of the team’s leaders, Nekoliczak believes she and her teammates will be more settled and comfortable in their roles this season. The native of Greeley, Neb., says it took a while for the team to find its groove with several moving parts. Nekoliczak served as an example, switching from setter to defensive specialist.

“We definitely weren’t molded as a team together last year,” Nekoliczak said. “I think just having so many new people in and out and positions being changed, everyone was thrown off a little bit. I think this year having a year under our belt we should be a lot better.”

One adjustment took place early on last season when Mattera installed Kavanaugh as the team’s setter. She took over a role that had been filled by James and Nekoliczak the previous season. It didn’t take long to understand why Mattera wanted Kavanaugh (8.1 assists/set), a former Lincoln Christian High School star, on the court at all times.

“Obviously throwing a freshman in there, you’re handing her the keys to the car and saying go,” Mattera said. “Are there going to be growing pains? Obviously. She’s as physically talented as any setter I’ve ever coached and that includes at the D-1 level. She’s really working very hard to enhance her intangibles in terms of leadership and boldness.”

Mattera also likes his options on the right side with Abbott coming back from injury and sophomore Tiegen Skains emerging as one of the team’s most impressive performers in the spring. Abbott drilled 289 kills as a sophomore in 2012 while Skains put down 56 in her rookie season last year.

“That’s a tough injury to come back from but (Amanda’s) worked really hard for it,” Mattera said. “We’re really excited to have her back not only from a skills standpoint but from a leadership standpoint. Girls really respect her.

“Tiegen Skains had a huge spring for us. She really started coming on at the end of the season and continued that through the spring. She’s hitting the ball as hard as anyone in the program, which is saying something right now.”

Skains’ gains may just be the beginning for the 2013 recruiting class that included Getz, Kavanaugh, White (transfer) and Workman. That group serves as a foundation and a big reason why the Walz Human Performance Complex is teeming with confidence.

“Do I think you’re going to see big things from some of those kids? Yeah, I think you’re going to see some major steps forward,” Mattera said. “A lot of it’s on the intangible side rather than, oh, she gained six inches on her vertical or things like that. It’s the mental side of the game.”

The Bulldogs will use their improved mental focus in taking aim at the GPAC’s perennial powers – some Concordia has not beaten in several years. Even after last year’s jump forward, Mattera and Nekoliczak toss out words like “unsatisfied” when looking back.

“I think we have a ton of personal and team goals,” Nekoliczak said. “We want to prove to people that we can be good. We want to have an even better season than last year. At the end of the season we weren’t satisfied at all. It was more wins but it wasn’t good enough.”

Mattera takes it even a step further. The ultimate goal isn’t simply to stride into the middle of the pack, it’s to soar to the top. The 2014 campaign will be treated as another step in that process.

“We’re not satisfied yet and we won’t be until we’re competing for championships, not only GPAC but at the national level,” Mattera said. “We believe very strongly we will do that sooner rather than later. But that step in the right direction gives you hope. I don’t mean to put more pressure on ourselves but this is a key season for us to keep that momentum going from year 1 to year 2. We need to have a good season this year to show that all the initiatives we’ve been working on are actually paying dividends on the court.”

Among the newcomers to keep an eye on this year are middle Annie Friesen (Wichita, Kan.), defensive specialist Jocelyn Garcia (Brighton, Colo.) and right side Shannon O’Hara (Lone Tree, Colo.). All three will likely see action as freshmen.

First serve of the 2014 season will take place Tuesday, Aug. 26 when the Bulldogs host Faith Baptist College at 6 p.m. Concordia will then have some big early-season tests at the Asics/Wyndham Labor Day Tournament (Aug. 29-30) in Irvine, Calif., where it will take on both Concordia-Irvine (No. 3 in 2013 final poll) and Vanguard University (No. 19 in 2013 final poll).

18 August 2014

Sophomore setter Alayna Kavanaugh

Senior Mariah Schamp (left) and sophomore Paige Getz (right)