Veteran 'Dogs make spring tweaks prior to highly-anticipated 2015 season

By on May. 15, 2015 in Volleyball

Veteran ‘Dogs make spring tweaks prior to highly-anticipated 2015 season

By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications

SEWARD, Neb. – As confident as perhaps any Bulldog volleyball team in recent years, head coach Scott Mattera’s group returned to the court this spring. A familiar core headlined by 2014 first team all-conference selections in Alayna Kavanaugh and Claire White is talented, seasoned and on the brink of an expected successful 2015 campaign.

Even after a 20-win season and a GPAC semifinal finish in 2014, Mattera has made spring tweaks here and there in an effort to maximize the abilities of a high-flying, proficient offensive team.

“This year we had some system changes and some experiments we wanted to toy around with,” Mattera said. “We actually did quite a bit of system work, changing some things and trying some new stuff. It’s going to be pretty noticeable in the fall. I’m excited about it.”

Behind raucous Walz crowds, the 2014 Bulldogs produced several memorable moments. The powerful right-handed swings of the likes of White, Paige Getz and Tiegen Skains nearly brought the roof down at times. They were part of a potent attack that ranked inside the top 25 nationally in hitting percentage for much of the year.

After nearly cracking the national coaches’ poll at one point last season, Concordia showed signs this spring that it may be ready to join the GPAC’s elite. Though they struggled at times in their first spring match with Central Community College, the Bulldogs ramped things up and held their own against NCAA Division II powerhouse University of Nebraska-Kearney. The trick is finding the right formula that allows White and company to perform at a high level, night-in and night-out.

“We’ve had some people make some significant gains in the spring,” Mattera said. “From a technical standpoint, it’s a lot of players fixing little things so you’re going to see the consistency go up. Our ‘A’ game was fantastic but it was just finding consistency. A lot of our players are maturing and working towards getting to that top end all the time rather than just some of the time.”

Kavanaugh and White are established stars entering their third years in the program. Skains may be on track to elevate herself to that level if her offseason performance is any indication. The native of Colorado Springs exploded for 20 kills in last year’s win over No. 21 Dordt. Those types of outings should not shock anyone this fall. They may even come with more regularity.

Skains made significant strides from her freshman to sophomore year. Is she up for another breakout?

“I don’t mean to put more pressure on her, but it’s Tiegen again quite honestly,” Mattera said. “She had such a huge spring just like she did last spring. She really nails it in the offseason. Having 20 kills against Dordt, a top 25 team, showed what she’s capable of. In this offseason she’s really come into her own in terms of being able to do that all the time. We could always count on her for a great swing when the set was perfect. Now she’s figuring out how to get kills and great swings when the set isn’t perfect.”

Skains and her teammates plan to grow more throughout this summer. A large contingent of the core group of players will remain in Seward with the idea that Concordia will become an even closer-knit and cohesive team.

The Bulldogs have graduated a 2014-15 senior class that was long on leadership. Filling the void are seniors-to-be in the Dinkels (Kelsey and Kendra) and Libby Zagel. All have received rave reviews from Mattera.

Another potential breakout player is sophomore-to-be Jocelyn Garcia, a defensive specialist from Brighton, Colo. Mattera has praised Garcia for her improved consistency in serve receive – a crucial development with all-conference libero Carli Smith moving on.

The sum of all these parts equals another chance to climb the GPAC standings. A productive spring has done nothing to dampen the fervor for this coming fall.

“This year we’re going to have the targets on our backs,” Mattera said. “It’s a very different mindset to play that way. It’s something we’re going to talk about and it’s something we’re going to deal with directly. I’m excited about it. It’s fun to be the underdog but eventually you can’t be the underdog forever in a quality program.”

While system tweaks are part of the offseason storyline, Concordia will still feature plenty of offensive flair.

Says Mattera, “We’re going to play an exciting brand of volleyball with some players that are really fun to watch – explosive, athletic – and girls that everyone wants to be around, too.”