SEWARD, Neb. – The Concordia University volleyball team, receiving votes in the national poll, will kick off the 2015-16 season for all Bulldog squads when it hosts Bethany College (Kan.) at 1 p.m. on Saturday (Aug. 22). The nonconference tilt will also mark the debut of live Concordia sports action on 104.9 Max Country radio out of York, Nebraska. Frank Greene will provide the play-by-play for Max Country.
Bulldogs in the rankings
In the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll released earlier this week, Concordia received one first-place vote and a total of 89 points for a fifth-place slotting. That ranking is the highest preseason placement for the program since 2002 when the Bulldogs came off a runner-up GPAC finish in 2001 and a conference title in 2000. The top-four rated teams in the GPAC to begin 2015 are Midland, Northwestern, Hastings and Dordt.
In the national poll, Concordia garnered eight points and is listed 12th among “others receiving votes.” The Bulldogs last cracked the nation’s top 25 in the 2001 preseason poll when they appeared at No. 20. They last finished a season ranked in 2000 when they closed the campaign at No. 18. Four GPAC teams enter 2015 nationally-ranked: No. 9 Midland, No. 12 Northwestern, No. 22 Hastings and No. 25 Dordt. Concordia went a combined 3-1 against Hastings and Dordt in 2014.
Head coach Scott Mattera returns both of first team all-conference performers, setter Alayna Kavanaugh and outside hitter Claire White, from the 2014 campaign. Both have been ultra-productive in two seasons as Bulldogs. Kavanaugh has accumulated 2,055 assists over her freshman and sophomore campaigns. In 2014 she ranked 21st nationally with an average of 10.2 assists per game. Her 1,189 assists last season ranks as the fourth-highest single-season total in program history.
A versatile performer, White has been a force since transferring from NCAA Division II Washburn University in 2013. She needs 286 kills to become the seventh player in program annals to reach the 1,000 kills plateau. She has racked up more than 330 kills in each of her first two seasons with the Bulldogs. She also is instrumental in serve receive (94.1 percent career serve receive) and in service offensively. She ranked 28th nationally with an average of 0.47 aces per game in 2014. She was an honorable mention All-America selection.
In addition, juniors Paige Getz (610 career kills) and Tiegen Skains (262 career kills) are back after receiving honorable mention all-conference accolades last season. They contributed to a powerful attack that ranked favorably among all NAIA teams: 30th in kills per game (12.89), 39th in hitting percentage (.211) and 41st in assists per game (11.58).
Protect this house
Dating back to Oct. 8, 2013, Concordia owns a record of 15-2 when playing inside the friendly confines of Walz Arena. The Bulldogs won 12-consecutive home matches between Oct. 8, 2013 and Oct. 10, 2014, before finally falling in Seward at the hands of Nebraska Wesleyan on Oct. 21, 2014. Over their past 17 home matches, the Bulldogs have dropped a total of just 11 sets. Ten of the 15 home wins during that stretch have concluded in straight sets.
Team of scholars
In each of the last two years, Concordia has either led all volleyball programs or tied for the national lead in total number of NAIA Scholar-Athletes. The 2013 Bulldogs produced seven Scholar-Athletes before bumping their figure up to 10 in 2014. Recognized as both an NAIA Scholar-Team and by the American Volleyball Coaches Association (AVCA) for academic excellence, Concordia volleyball student-athletes combined for a team GPA of 3.56 during the 2014-15 school year.
Four current Bulldogs received Scholar-Athlete honors in 2014: Katie Peterson, Kayla Sombke, Claire White and Libby Zagel.
Scouting Bethany College
Like Concordia, Bethany opens its 2015 season on Saturday. First-year head coach Cheri Lindsay inherits a program seeking its first winning season since a 19-10 campaign in 2008. Since then, the Swedes are 34-145, including a record of 3-26 in 2014. Prior to being named head coach at Bethany, Lindsay served as assistant coach at Tiffin University in Ohio. Lindsay will lean upon second team all-Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference outside hitter Bryanna Cool, who paced the team with 245 kills in 2014. Cool and company will attempt to halt a 19-match losing streak.
“I can’t even begin to explain how much bigger and better things are going to be this year. People are going to see a lot more consistency and a lot more passion and a lot more of everything. We’re going to keep climbing the ladder and moving up.”
“Our style is very powerful, diverse and fast. We’re going to work extremely hard defensively and ball control-wise, but we’re a team that wants to end points quickly. We want to play an exciting style that’s really fast and athletic and fun to watch. That’s the identity we’re trying to build within the program. I think we’ve got a shot to be even better in that area than we were last year, just because of the development of our quarterback Alayna and all of those hitters returning that understand shot making and putting the ball away.”